The lobbying organization for the nation’s big trucking employers, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), has long touted a nationwide shortage of truck drivers due in part to its older workforce entering retirement. However, it was undeniably exacerbated by the constraints of the COVID-19 epidemic, much as the already constrained supply chain to move goods across the country was exacerbated as retirements were accelerated faster than new commercial truck drivers could be trained. According to the ATA, a record 80,000 additional truck drivers are currently needed to meet the nation’s freight demand, while the driver shortage is expected to exceed 160,000 by 2028. Not only does a trucker shortage clog the country’s supply chain, which increases consumer pricing, but it also adversely impacts the bottom lines of commercial trucking companies, whose trucks sit for days, unused, while costs continue to accumulate.
Various reasons for the driver shortage have been proposed. According to the ATA, age restrictions on drivers, gender issues, and schooling issues are lead amongst them; while nearly every state permit drivers under the age of 21 to obtain their commercial driver’s licenses (CDL), federal law prevents drivers who are younger than 21 from hauling freight across state lines. The public health crisis limited trucking opportunities to experienced drivers, as most schools closed since they could not teach truck driving via Zoom. As for gender, the stereotype of a trucker is male-dominated. The industry has struggled to attract women to commercial truck driving; while women comprise 47% of America’s workforce, they only account for 6% of commercial truck drivers. Interwoven within these issues is the “trucker lifestyle,” which is not appealing to many: unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle due to being on the road, long-distance travel with long hours and sometimes weeks away from home, and separation from families. Moreover, implementation of vaccine mandates or weekly COVID-19 testing, while arguably a vital part of the fight to quell the surge of COVID-19, has another negative impact on the industry. The companies already stretched thin struggle to implement the government-mandated policies, and not all commercial truck drivers are willing to participate.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 epidemic, we can reflect upon what creative solutions to the commercial trucker shortage are proving effective for various companies. The most obvious answers are financial ones, in line with the general concept of supply and demand: increasing driver pay, providing sign-on bonuses, and offering pay increases, along with better benefits and 401(k) or tuition reimbursement programs. The area of trucking with the most significantly seen shortage is “long-haul trucking,” which refers to truck drivers who must travel long distances across state lines, adversely affected by the above-referenced lifestyle issues. To address this, companies are offering options for part-time drivers, decreasing time on the road by offering weekend or local routes with steady and reliable hours and increasing the number of available distribution centers. Some companies have targeted minorities, women, and military veterans with focused advertising on social media or financial incentives. There has been a cry through initiatives such as the ATA’s DRIVE-Safe Act to lower the age minimum for a commercial driver from 21 to 18 so that the younger commercial driver force is not prohibited from transporting goods nationally. It may be that the improvement of and likely entry of autonomously operated vehicles into the workforce may decrease the adverse effects of product distribution caused by the trucker shortage.
What is clear, is that the effects of COVID-19 are ongoing, with no clear end in sight for either the epidemic or its impact upon the commercial trucker shortage. However, just as there is no singular cause of the commercial trucker shortage, there is no singular solution. But we know now, more than ever, that commercial truckers are vital to the economy in our society, and we need to keep working to support commercial truck drivers and attract them to the industry.
Written by principal Scarlett Corso.