Transportation is vital to the economy, but with a scarcity of drivers, what are the potential solutions to the truck driver shortage?
According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the industry has been suffering from an ongoing driver shortage, now entering its 15th year.
And it’s not just America that is feeling the pinch. Statistics Canada estimates that from 2019-2028, there will be 119,900 job openings for truck drivers but only 96,600 new job seekers — leaving 23,300 positions unfilled.
There are many reasons for the current driver shortage. However, the two most significant factors are a lack of younger drivers replacing an aging workforce and low retention rates of existing drivers.
In this article, we discuss possible solutions to truck driver shortage by addressing the barriers new drivers face when entering the profession and innovative new strategies and technologies that could help shape the future of driver engagement.
Local and federal governments could play a more significant role in addressing barriers to entering the trucking profession. We are seeing some action from the government, both big and small. The Biden-Harris administration has pledged $30 million in funding to help states expedite CDLs.
On the local level, some high schools in the US have started offering elective truck driving programs to teach young students about real-world scenarios truckers face on the road.
Other possible avenues for government support are:
- Immediate funding to programs that address barriers facing younger drivers entering the profession, like tuition support, forgivable grants, paid apprenticeship programs, etc.;
- Wage subsidies for companies that hire fresh graduates to offset the higher insurance premiums these companies will pay;
Fact: Only 3%-4% of drivers in the industry are under 25, compared to 12.7% across all sectors.
- Improving rest stop and truck parking infrastructure to make the profession safer;
- Work with the industry to find ways to recruit more female drivers and candidates from underrepresented groups.
Fact: Women currently make up only 5%-7% of truckers, despite being 50% of the population. Better rest-stop infrastructure will help underrepresented groups in the profession feel safer and more likely to become or continue as drivers.
Next, we need to unpack possible solutions that the transportation industry could employ to address the extremely high rates of driver turnover.
To put things into context, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, state governments issue more than 450,000 new commercial driver’s licenses yearly, with many entering the trucking profession. So, the problem could largely be solved by enhancing the retention rates of new drivers in the industry.
Driver turnover is exceedingly high. More than 30% of drivers quit within the first three months. And approximately 50% leave their jobs within the first six months.
What causes these extreme rates of turnover? Typically, it’s due to a mismatch between what a recruiter might say the company offers versus the actual experience of truck drivers. Trucking companies must become more transparent and upfront about the salaries and benefits they provide to help improve the retention rates of existing drivers.
It’s important to note that just because a driver quits their job, it does not mean they quit the profession. While some do exit the profession, many switch between employers. One could argue that the tight labor market empowers drivers to find the right employer, but it will undoubtedly cause short-term labor shortages and HR headaches as they seek to change employers.
It’s also important to regularly replace trucks and equipment to keep drivers happy and avoid unnecessary downtime. Investing in truck systems and preventative maintenance is critical to solving these challenges.
While smaller companies or owner-operators may struggle to find time and budget for improvements in their equipment, most trucking companies have come to realize the importance of improving their tech stack. Predictive maintenance and trailer tracking software are already paying significant dividends to larger fleets.
However, lesser-known innovations are coming down the pipeline that could shape the industry’s future and help address the acute shortage of available drivers.
Self-driving truck technology is poised to become a widespread solution. The present goal of such technology would be to augment the capacity of delivery systems, not to replace humans.
As our previous article about logistics trends mentioned, Locomotion convoy technology elaborated on the concept of human-guided autonomous trucks. In this scenario, two trucks form a convoy. A human driver operates the leading truck, and then a secondary truck is tethered to the leader electronically. Each truck has a driver, but this kind of technology would allow one driver to rest while the leader drives for both.
Then, as the leader reaches the limits of their service hours, the trucks switch. Then the secondary truck becomes the leader, allowing the other driver to rest. In the not-so-distant future, innovative tech solutions like these may augment driver ability and allow for improved efficiency with fewer drivers.
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