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Closing the Gap On Driver Shortages

by Chelsea Wherry - Published: 2/14/2017
4.4 24 votes

    In recent years, there has been a steady decrease of truck drivers in America. Much of this is due to the fact that veteran drivers are aging and retiring and younger generations do not see the vast benefits that the trucking industry has to offer. According to several recent studies, however, jobs will be on the rise in 2017 and the coming years. If the amount of drivers needed continues to grow, many predict that there will soon be a huge gap in the transportation market due to a lack of people. Without the sufficient amount of drivers, a huge strain will be placed on the transportation industry as a whole, which can be detrimental to all sides including manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and many other facets of businesses that are integral to the average American's life. 

   Industry Outlook
     According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in connection with the United States Department of Labor, there were a total of 1,797,700 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers hired in the United States during the year of 2014. Other sources have reported that there are upwards of 10 million people employed by the industry. What is also mentioned is that between the years of 2014 and 2024, the trucking industry is set to grow five percent, which is right along the lines of the average growth rates for other occupations related to trucking jobs. This means that by 2024, there will be a projected increase of an additional 98,700 truck driver jobs available within the industry.

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   While this does sound like a great increase over the coming years, a study conducted by the BLS in May of 2015 concluded that the national estimate for truck drivers was 1,678,280. This number is nearly 120,000 fewer jobs than mentioned in the study conducted only a year before. BLS does mention that this total does not include self-employed drivers. Considering the 2015 study numbers, it goes on to say that 531,760, nearly a third of these jobs, are found within five states: Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio.

   There are differences between these numbers, but the fact that 70 percent of freight tonnage is moved by trucks in the United States remains the same. There is no denying that the industry will always need drivers. According to the American Trucking Association, as of 2015, there was a shortage of 48,000 employees. In this same report, they reached the conclusion that this may grow to 175,000 by 2024.

  Cause of Shortage   
  Several reasons are listed in creating the shortage of available drivers. One of the most surprising, not in fact, but in magnitude, is the statistic that 45 percent of the driver shortage is due to the increase of retiring drivers. Not far behind with 33 percent is that of industry growth. Many estimate that with the amount of retiring drivers and the growing industry, 890,000 drivers will need to be hired within the next ten years.

    While there are discrepancies within the statistics per different sources as to why we are seeing a gap in truck driving jobs, there is hard evidence to prove that the trucking industry is on the rise. Though only based on a state-scale, it is an instance of trends looking upwards. The Nebraska Department of Labor recently released their analysis of eight industry segments where they found a large increase in employment in the sectors of transportation and warehousing, including a need for at least 798 drivers. Remarkably, their evidence not only showed a higher need for drivers, but in all aspects of the industry including in the fields of dispatching, maintenance, and freight.

    A research analyst who worked with the DOL on the study noted that while there was an obvious increase in trucking, two of the four railroad occupations which used to be listed in the occupational survey are no longer included. The DOL believes this to be caused by the decrease in the need to use rail systems for transportation and the ever-increasing use of semi-trucks.

    While the vast increase of positions available sounds like a positive turn for transportation companies, many jobs remain unfilled due to the fact that many potential employees have a hard time weighing the benefits of trucking over the few negatives.

  Trucking Benefits

    One of the largest benefits of a career in truck driving is the pay. Due to the increasingly high demand for drivers, the median rate of pay has also seen a steep increase in the past two years. As of March 18, 2014, the median pay for a truck driver was listed as $49,000. This is a larger than the 2015 median income of all workers within the United States at $30,240. What is even more impressive than the 2014 median income for truck drivers is that in only two years, the median income increased by $2,000. Of course, with so many specific types of truck drivers, this is only a reflection of an overall median income.

    Another task that may seem like a deterrent to becoming a truck driver is obtaining a CDL. While this is a hefty accomplishment, it is also a privilege and should be approached similarly to receiving a regular driver’s license. Studying the manual to assure success in all parts of the test will help to guarantee not only passing the test, but cultivating a safe driver.

   One of the largest reasons many fleets have said they are experiencing such large shortages is the fact that those who apply to available jobs are not completely qualified to become safe or efficient drivers. Any traffic accident is a tragedy, but semi-truck accidents are much more dangerous due to the size of the vehicle and the fact that it is not only the driver of the truck of any other affected vehicles are in danger. In an accident the shipment the truck may be carrying must be considered, along with the powerful, expensive machines that are also impacted. However, drivers find that many companies and schools provide greatly for their training and ensure that they hit the road when successfully trained and educated in safety protocol. 

    Yet another benefit within trucker jobs is the fact that one gets to experience the beauty of the open road and America in a way that so few others do. Many young people have their world opened up to them in way they never imagined possible while on the job. Whether one is traveling the distance of a few states or cross country, truck driving is an amazing way to see the nation.

   Joining the trucking industry is a great alternative to earn a livable income for those who do not wish to attend college. While there was a total of 19,010,459 enrolled in either four-year public, four-year private, four-year for profit, and two-year public institutions, that is an astonishing 1.4 percent drop from 2015. It is also worth mentioning that 2015 enrollment had dropped 1.7 percent from 2014 and another drop was seen between 2013 and 2014 with a rate of 1.3 percent. This article is in no way encouraging people from attending college, but there are other options for those who wish to lead a different career.

   Though there has been a large increase in the amount of employment available through the trucking industry, there is no way it will be thoroughly fulfilled unless it is embraced by a younger generation willing to take on both the hours, the responsibility and the massive benefits.

   As January 2016 saw another rise in the current unemployment rate in America, it is becoming more important than ever to show the value and importance of working within the industry, especially considering the high amount of jobs available. As there are currently 7.6 million unemployed people within the United States, only 1.9 million, or 24.4 percent of those unemployed, made up those that have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. In November of last year, unemployment reached a nine-year low with a rate of only 4.6 percent, but began to see a steady rise as it increased in December to 4.7 percent and then again in January to 4.8 percent. With this rate of employment seemingly only increasing along with the amount of trucking jobs available, it would seem like a natural decision to fill many of these jobs as it is such a large market.

    This country is incredibly reliant on the commercial transportation industry and the truck companies that offer drivers a job. Without dedicated drivers, the world of trucking would fall apart, snowballing into less than beneficial situations for retailers and consumers. By making sure these jobs are filled, small and medium-sized businesses such as trucking continue to run smoothly, and people of America consistently find work.

   It’s safe to say that trucking is going to stay on the incline as the amount of people who retire increases over the years and the demand for a widened infrastructure does as well. With all of this evidence considered, the trucking industry is clearly one of the best careers to consider. 


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