Can the driver shortage be solvable or is it here to stay?
According to the American Trucking Associations, the driver shortage of over 61,000 in 2019 is likely to increase dramatically to 160,000 drivers by 2028, unless industry-wide measures are swiftly taken. As demand heavily increased, most considered the pandemic to be the main reason for the driver shortage in the logistics industry, but is it really?
Imagine you wake up in the life of a driver, where you get ready to climb up the truck and start your journey from New York to Laredo. You know it’s going to take you more than 30 hours driving time plus a rest stop, so it may end up being a total of almost 2 days to get through the 1,980 miles. That’s if you don’t run into any extreme weather conditions, engine problems, flat tires or even an accident. It’s just you with nobody else to talk to while you fill up on snacks, coffee and gum to keep you entertained and awake. It even gets easy to be tempted by your phone to relieve the loneliness, but you know safety comes first. You think of the people in your life, safely at home, and you wish you could be there as well…
The pandemic has been an enhancer for the driver shortage in the logistics industry, but it hasn’t been the catalyst for a situation that has been taking place for at least 15 years. The fluctuations in the workforce over time have happened as a result of four main factors:
Many people that have gone through training to be heavy-duty truck drivers have quit due to the poor working conditions of the entry-level jobs or the challenges faced by women entering in a male-dominated industry.
Going long distances often entails drivers having to live in the truck to reduce expenses. In the long term, health issues may arise from sitting down for too long, eating junk food, and from the stress generated by a dangerous job.
Long-haul truckers are rarely paid by the hour, and it’s common for them to work up to 70+ hours per week. This means that no matter what happens on the journey that slows it down, or however long it takes to unload and load a truck or stop to rest, the driver gets paid solely by miles driven. The US Department of Transportation has determined that the average American truck driver is paid 52.3 cents per mile.
Certification, regulation and driving requirements
To be a truck driver in the United States you must be at least 21 years of age and go through the proper training to attain certifications. Also, there’s been a development of new regulations that entail better drug testing of drivers to ensure more security, which requires even more qualified people to do the job.
On top of this, since the pandemic, many certified drivers shifted professions, most likely finding better opportunities in other industries, such as construction.
Seeking other opportunities
The average age of the American truck driver is 48, and we are now seeing a decrease in interest in this profession, which has created a high rotation and generational gap. According to a 2019 US Department of Transportation report, 28% of the current heavy truck driving workforce will be 65+ years in the next decade. The conditions have driven people to seek other opportunities in different industries for a number of possible reasons: to get paid more, be less exposed to danger, be closer to home, among others.
What all of this is creating is a driver shortage that, more than a new reality, is a condition that can be improved by collectively empathizing with truck drivers and taking measures that may change the industry for good. The two main consequences of this is an excess in demand from shippers and increased carrier rates. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), in order to keep up with the current economic demand, more than a million truck drivers will have to join the industry. So, what can be done to manage and improve the current situation?
In order for shippers to cope with the shortage and mitigate it while it’s happening, it could help to re-prioritize by:
Focusing less on price: Capacity is running low, and carriers may prioritize accepting freights that imply more profit. In order to move shipments at all, it may be necessary to focus less on rates and more on getting your cargo to its destination and in the conditions you need.
Focusing more on metrics: Paying more attention to performance metrics entailing service, time of delivery and quality of product by the time it reaches the final destination can become more significant than pricing itself.
Building community within the industry: Give more importance to building long-lasting relationships and partnerships with freight forwarders and carriers, working as a team to face any issues that may arise. In the long run, it will help you increase your chances of securing capacity for your business logistics and having better results.
To transform driver supply in the long-term, carriers may offer conditions that will lead drivers to operate better with low risk, thus making the job more attractive, such as:
Reconfigure salary and offer benefits to better contemplate the driver’s efforts and give them more options to balance life and work. It could also include programs related to health, insurance, etc.
Implement training and certifications as part of hiring conditions.
Select the best routes for their safety and give them the tools and resources to be able to smoothly navigate each step of the way.
Promote open communication and inclusion to widen the possibilities of more people coming into the profession.