Where are the professional truck drivers?

Drivers, Resource, Technology and Innovation

What’s going on with the driver shortage?

It’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you’re aware of the nation’s shortage of professional truck drivers. It’s the defining issue of our industry—even for those outside our industry, the effects, though they may not know the exact cause, are clear. Seventy-two percent of goods are moved via truck, and approximately 6% of the nation works in the trucking industry, which means not having enough drivers to move those goods is a massive and complex issue.

On top of fewer drivers, consumer purchasing has increased, adding insult to injury. The American Trucking Associations predicts that the industry will need to hire 105,000 drivers by 2023 to meet the ever-increasing demand.

Companies across the country have sought novel and inventive ways to address the shortage; time will tell if their approaches are fruitful. Here are three key insights.

Lifestyle considerations

The lifestyle of a trucker is characterized by its isolation and heavy workloads. Drivers spend long days and weeks on the road, away from family and friends, their own beds, and all the creature comforts many of us take for granted—it isn’t a job for everyone. It takes a certain disposition to live and enjoy life on the road.

For many, the pandemic put a spotlight on what individuals prioritize, and often, family and friends are the most important. Understandably, being away from home during a tumultuous time is not ideal. Anecdotally, we’ve heard drivers are leaving the candidate pool to take more predictable jobs closer to home, including local trucking routes with online retailers or mail and parcel carriers. Construction roles closer to home have also become more lucrative during the pandemic, so we’re even seeing drivers change careers entirely.

New drug and alcohol clearinghouse

Beginning on Jan. 6, 2020, all CDL drivers were required to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations’ Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, the national database of commercial driver substance violations, or face penalties and fines.

Drivers have always adhered to strict drug and alcohol policies, but in the past, drivers could violate these policies, be dismissed from their position, then start working with a new fleet. The new centralized database keeps a record of all driver drug and alcohol violations across organizations, stopping drivers from changing jobs and avoiding their driver records. Approximately 70,000 drivers have been flagged in the database due to prior drug and alcohol violations. Though there is a path to reinstatement, many do not pursue it.

While most trucking companies support this initiative, the quality of testing is paramount. We’ve begun using hair testing with our drivers, which may disqualify more drivers than a urine test but ensures we retain the highest quality drivers possible during the shortage.

CDL certification centers closing

During the pandemic, CDL certification centers closed or slowed their pace. Of course, this creates its own micro-professional supply-chain disruption—new, certified drivers can’t enter the market fast enough, doubling down on the staffing issues the industry already faces.

Closed CDL certification centers create a bottleneck that halts or significantly slows an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 newly trained drivers from entering the workforce. Not only is there a need for drivers, but there’s also a slowing of the pipeline that’s needed to alleviate the shortage. It’s a powerful one-two punch.

As an industry, it would benefit us all if we injected a dose of mindfulness into operations, knowing that we’re working with drivers who are spread thin and doing their best. Together, shippers, carriers, and suppliers can help drivers during this time by leaving room for flexibility and understanding.

For more insight into the industry, view our most recent economic forecast.

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