The driver shortage has been a topic of conversation among the fleet industry for years now, and for a long time, it seemed like there was no end in sight. While fleet managers have struggled to find ways to attract drivers, the supply chain has suffered dramatically, especially in light of the pandemic, which has put a strain on everything. With this in mind, Biden signed into law a 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill in November that included initiatives to grow the trucking workforce. Josh Fisher discusses how this bill affects the fleet industry overall in his article, “What the Largest Infrastructure Spending Bill in History Means for Trucking.” One of the aspects of the bill that he highlights in this article is the initiative to bring more truckers into the workforce to ease the burden on the supply chain. This article will discuss the trucking shortage and how Biden’s plan can help bring more truckers into the workforce.
History of the Truck Driver Shortage
The trucking shortage has only been growing worse over the past few years. The American Trucking Association first reported a truck driver shortage in 2005. It has only grown worse since then, except a slight reprieve during the 2008 recession. However, when freight volumes started to recover in 2011, the trucking shortage became an issue again. In 2016, the trucking industry needed 36,500 drivers. By 2017, this number had risen to 50,700 drivers, but during the pandemic, this number reached 80,000. Even though driver wages increased during the pandemic, working conditions became worse, and people no longer wanted to work trucking jobs. The job is far more stressful with the strain on the supply chain, and the strain looks like it will continue for a while. If the driver shortage stays on its current trajectory, it could add up to over 160,000 drivers by 2028.
Why is there a Truck Driver Shortage?
There are a couple of reasons for the truck driver shortage. Besides those exacerbated by the pandemic, a few problems in the current workforce are causing the truck driver shortage. We will go over those problems in this section.
The first problem is that drivers are simply aging out of the job. The average commercial truck driver is 55 years old. Therefore, it’s only natural that they are retiring. Unfortunately, younger people are not interested in truck driving as a profession. Derek Leathers, CEO of a trucking company in Omaha, says this about the perception of truck driving:
“Being a truck driver was something that carried a certain level of honor with it… [truck drivers] were kind of the 'knights of the road,' and we lost that somewhere along the way, and I think often trucks are portrayed as sort of this negative reality on the road."
The second problem is a very high turnover rate for truck drivers. Unfortunately, wages for truck drivers are not always very high, and sometimes drivers in some jobs are asked to work unpaid. Furthermore, drivers are generally paid based on their mileage and lose money if they are stuck in traffic, delayed by construction zones, or stalled due to bad weather. When drivers are paid based on mileage, it can lead to accidents or drivers pushing themselves too hard.
A third reason for the truck driver shortage is that drivers are restricted on how many hours they can work. Regulations dictate when a driver can be on the road and require that drivers keep Record of Duty Status, digital records of their hours on the road. Drivers may lose money if they cannot continue driving because they have met their maximum hours.
How Can Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Help?
Biden’s bill contains a few initiatives to help grow the trucking workforce. It includes public service campaigns to make younger drivers aware of career opportunities in the trucking industry. It also provides an apprenticeship program so that drivers younger than 21 years old can work in interstate commerce.
David Heller, TCA’s VP of government affairs, said of the trucking shortage: "Younger drivers, certainly drivers under the age of 21, have never truly been exposed to interstate trucking. That it appears in this (bill) is a good victory for the industry that's advocated for this demographic. The lack of qualified drivers out there is certainly no secret to anybody involved in trucking. This is an opportunity to expand the trucking workforce."
There is a significant problem that young drivers cannot drive trucks across state lines. This infrastructure bill establishes a pilot program in which the FMCSA allows 18 to 21-year-old drivers to participate in interstate commerce apprenticeship programs.
Another goal of this outreach program is to reach women drivers. Women only make up 6.6% of truck drivers. Women are 20% less likely to be involved in a truck crash, so adding women to the trucking workforce can make the fleet industry safer. Women should undoubtedly represent more of the trucking workforce, representing 47% of the U.S. workforce overall.
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