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Is There a Driver Shortage?
6 mins read

SEPTEMBER 7, 2018 – The struggle is real: trucking companies across the country are finding it difficult to keep their cabs full – and investing a great deal of time and resources into finding qualified drivers.

The reason is different depending on who you ask: some say there is a growing driver shortage that is being fueled by an aging workforce that is on the brink of retirement – as well as a younger generation of workers that isn’t as interested in a profession that keeps them away from home for days or weeks at a time. Others argue that there isn’t a shortage of drivers at all – rather, the issue stems from the trucking companies themselves and their ability to retain good drivers.

Either way, the issue is creating a problem for carriers who have freight they need to move – a lot of freight. Because while drivers may appear to be in short supply, freight isn’t: for-hire tonnage rose 8 percent in the first half of 2018 when compared to the year before.

Is it a Shortage?

 The American Trucking Associations (ATA) think so. Online shopping has exploded in recent years thanks to retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart – creating a larger demand for drivers to deliver these goods. They put the driver shortage at 50,000 right now and expect it to exceed 100,000 in the next few years.

One possible solution comes from the federal government in the form of a bill that would decrease the driving age for interstate carriers to 18 – instead of 21. A pilot program is currently testing this idea to see how well these younger drivers fare on the roads. If it goes well, and the program is approved, individuals just out of high school would have the opportunity to begin their driving careers at the time when they’re making decisions about their future career path.

Some trucking companies are also working harder to make the profession more attractive to women by addressing some of the issues that matter most to them: safety, comfort and the ability to juggle a driving career with family life.

Or is it Retention?

 Those who believe the underlying issue has to do more with driver retention, such as OOIDA, point to the numbers around driver turnover which has reached an alarmingly high rate this year. At larger carriers, turnover stands at 94 percent – a 20 percent increase over last year. Turnover at smaller companies is only slightly better at 73 percent.

In their eyes, this has led to an illusion of a driver shortage as companies continuously cycle through the hiring process – only to find themselves without the help they need to keep their trucks moving. To support their argument, they point to data from the FMCSA which they believe shows that there are more than enough drivers to meet the current demand: in 2017 there were 3.2 million interstate CDL drivers on the road. In addition, there are approximately 450,000 new CDL holders each year.

So (in their view) the drivers are there – they just aren’t sticking around in any one position very long.

To help fix this issue, many trucking companies are rethinking their benefits. Increased compensation, more time at home and better retirement plans are being offered by a growing number of carriers to not only get drivers in the door – but to keep them there. There’s also an increased focus on enhancing the recruiting and onboarding experience in an effort to improve retention. As we discussed previously, the use of technology has been very useful here, especially in regards to making the application and onboarding experience as easy as possible for drivers who spend long stretches of time away from home. By utilizing mobile-friendly technology, these companies are appealing to the younger generation of drivers and streamlining the hiring process by making it easy to apply and complete the background screening process – no matter where they are. Research shows that just this step could increase retention by as much as 20 percent.

Regardless of the cause, one thing is for sure: hiring, onboarding and retaining quality drivers has never been more challenging. And as tonnage continues to rise, so will the challenges associated with keeping freight moving – unless some changes are made to address the underlying issues.

What are your thoughts? Is the problem being caused by a driver shortage, retention challenges or both?  Leave us your comments below!

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