Action needed to address a growing truck driver shortage

By: Brad Gardner

Research body fears shortages will exacerbate in the US unless industry attracts younger generation

Action needed to address a growing truck driver shortage
ATRI says the US trucking industry relies heavily on older truck drivers.


Chronic driver shortages in the US are likely to get worse unless the country’s trucking industry does more to entice young people to get behind the wheel, according to a research body.

The American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) study of driver age demographics between 1994 and 2013 shows an unhealthy reliance on older drivers and a dramatic fall in the number of those aged below 35 picking a career in trucking.

ATRI’s White Paper: Analysis of Truck Driver Age Demographics Across Two Decades, says the median age of people employed in the industry is 46.5, with those aged between 45 and 54 making up the bulk of employees (31 per cent).

It adds that there are more 65-year-old drivers in trucking compared to people aged 20 to 24, while those aged 25 to 34 make up only 15.6 per cent of the workforce.

According to the report, the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds working in the industry has dropped almost 50 per cent between 1994 and 2013.

"To address these findings, the industry will need to develop a program that specifically targets younger generations of workers with appropriate messaging, including the benefits of a career in trucking," ATRI’s report says.

"It is particularly important that the industry engage those in the 25-34 age range and younger. Related research should investigate the expectations and perspectives of Millennials as to their work habits, compensation expectations and lifestyle needs.

"In the longer-term, however, there are greater challenges and opportunities. High school vocation classwork could be an excellent tool for introducing students to a career in trucking."

ATRI says the development of trucking-specific vocational coursework could be a good entry point to the industry, but adds that changes to licensing regulations must be a priority.

According to ATRI, restrictions preventing drivers from gaining a licence until the age of 21 may be "the single biggest obstacle to attracting younger drivers to the industry".

It says the age restriction creates difficulties in transitioning potential drivers from high school to employment because they need to wait a number of years before beginning their career.

"Those gaps in time must be filled with either employment of another type or continuing education," ATRI says.

"Several fleets are using apprentice jobs (dock workers, forklift drivers) to grow younger people into a truck driver career."

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates there will be a potential driver shortage of 240,000 by 2022.

ATRI’s report raises concerns there may not be enough people to fill the void when older drivers retire.

"If current trends continue the core "trucking generation" — persons 45-54, will retire with a significant deficit of younger employees behind them to take their place," the report says.

"Potentially exacerbating this issue, there has been growth in the percentage of trucking employees that are in the age range of 55-64 and 65+. While employees in these groups are anecdotally said to be the most skilled and reliable, they are much closer to the current average U.S. retirement age of 62."

While it largely blames licensing restrictions for the dearth of young people entering and remaining in the industry, ATRI adds that the global financial crisis has also played a role.

"During that time period the dramatic drop in demand for for freight services resulted in the loss of thousands of truck driver jobs," it says.

"As the economy turned around, many former truck drivers may have found gainful employment in other sectors such as the oil and construction industries."

The report says about 3.2 million of the 7 million people with trucking-related jobs in the US are employed as truck drivers.

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