CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 11, 2019
Forward Thinking

Truck driver shortage hits 15-year high, ATA says

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The trucking industry was short nearly 61,000 drivers in 2018, a figure that could rise to 100,000 in five years, association report shows.

The trucking industry continues to face hiring and driver retention challenges, as it needed 60,800 more drivers at the end of last year to meet demand for freight services, according to a mid-year report from the American Trucking Associations.

The ATA report is the latest update in the association's ongoing coverage of driver turnover trends and what it has identified as a driver shortage that has been growing since 2005, when the Arlington, Va.-based group first identified a shortfall of 20,000 drivers nationwide. An aging driver population, increases in freight volumes, and competition from other blue-collar careers are key factors influencing the problem, ATA leaders said.

"Over the past 15 years, we've watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we've seen to date," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a prepared statement, adding that a surging freight economy on top of the shortage could lead to supply chain disruptions. "The increase in the driver shortage should be a warning to carriers, shippers, and policymakers because if conditions don't change substantively, our industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028."

As one example, Costello emphasized the need to find and attract younger drivers to the industry, noting that the average age of an over-the-road (OTR) driver is 46, according to the ATA Trends report. He added that the average age of a new driver being trained is 35.

"Whether by removing barriers for younger drivers to begin careers as drivers, attracting more demographic diversity into the industry, or easing the transition for veterans, we need to do more to recruit and retain drivers," Costello also said in the statement. "That includes increasing pay—which happened at a brisk pace last year—to keep pace with demand, addressing lifestyle factors like getting drivers more time at home, and improving conditions on the job like reducing wait times at shipper facilities."

Frank Granieri, COO of supply chain solutions for A. Duie Pyle, a regional carrier based in the Northeast, agrees. In a separate interview, Granieri said the driver shortage is most acute in the OTR truckload market, where spending days or weeks away from home and family makes for a challenging work-life balance. He agreed that improving conditions for drivers will go a long way toward addressing the industry's labor challenges.

"We maintain a people-centric culture, [providing] a financially stable and secure environment, with fair wages and above-market benefits," Granieri said, noting that doing so "lessens our need to react to employment shortages and, most importantly, provides for consistently high service levels."

Granieri said it can be especially difficult to recruit and retain drivers in the Northeast, where wages are among the highest in the nation and driver scarcity "is real" in many metropolitan areas.

Without some of the changes mentioned in its report, ATA said the industry is on track to need more than a million new drivers over the next decade—an average of 110,000 per year to replace retiring drivers and keep up with growth in the economy, the association said.

Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.

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