With the number of truck driver job openings poised to reach 160,000 within 10 years, according to forecasts from the American Trucking Associations, the trucker shortage didn't reach that level overnight; the gap won't be closed that quickly either. However, it's possible that a shortfall of this magnitude may never materialize, since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeing a massive influx of for-hire trucking applications who want to operate independently.
Tracing back to the midpoint of 2020, the FMCSA has granted federal operating authority to more than 113,000 for-hire trucking applications. That's according to an analysis of the government agency's data recently conducted by FTR and reported by Freight Waves. Of these approved applicants, 70% were granted solo operator status.
Avery Vise, vice president of trucking at FTR, noted that at the very least, the explosion in drivers who've been given approval by the FMCSA "almost certainly means we have more drivers today" than pre-COVID, as reported by Freight Waves.
FMCSA: 92,000 applications in 10 months
The growth in single-truck operators — the likes of which the trucking industry has never seen, Vise says — may ultimately be the most effective solution to the driver shortage. Instead of applying with major motor carriers, owner-operators are going it alone by eliminating the middleman and seeking permission directly from the FMCSA. In fact, through the first 10 months of 2021, the FMCSA has greenlit the applications of more than 92,000 seeking their own authority. With a full month remaining in the year, that's nearly double the approved applications in all of 2020 (59,000) and more than two times the total from 2018 (44,000).
Similar to launching a sole proprietorship or other small business, operating under your own authority comes with a variety of costs and benefits. For example, while it increases the ability to make more income, it also entails more expenses, since it requires obtaining and maintaining your own truck, accounting software, insurance protection and more. It also entails greater liability in the event of an accident.
While the American Trucking Associations projects a truck driver shortage in excess of 160,000 by 2030, it's possible that an additional 1 million new drivers will ultimately need to be hired in order for the industry to grow and to replace those who are leaving to pursue opportunities in other lines of work or are retiring. The ATA says over 400,000 openings between 2021 and 2030 will be due to retirements alone.
The surge in authorized drivers is a major shot in the arm for the sector as a whole. Paired with the strategies employers are implementing to encourage more drivers to stick with their current employer or to obtain their CDL — e.g. raising pay, improving working conditions, enhancing benefits — adequately plugging the gaping hole in truck driver supply may be within reach. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello has noted employers aren't just increasing compensation, they're raising pay at five times the historic average.
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