With an estimated 9 in 10 truckload carriers increasing what they pay to their truck drivers in salary since 2021, employers are clearly very serious about shoring up their numbers to avoid a doomsday shortage scenario that industry insiders say is a very real threat.
Their efforts in this regard appear to have moved the needle, according to a leading voice for the trucking industry.
Speaking at the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Management Conference at the San Diego Convention Center in southern California in late October, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello announced that the truck driver shortage now stands at roughly 78,000. That's a decrease of 4% from the trade group's prior estimate of 81,258 in 2021.
While encouraging, Costello noted that the dip hasn't fundamentally changed the ATA's expectation that the shortage will likely expand over time once other factors come into play, such as older drivers entering retirement and demand for trucking services being poised to intensify over the coming decade. The ATA forecasts a driver shortage of 160,000 by 2031.
"If things do not change, I think that's where we end up," Costello noted during the conference, as reported by Supply Chain Dive.
For well over 10 years now, the trucking industry has been on what might best be described as a hiring spree, employing millions of drivers with each passing month. In fact, in the approximately 130 monthly employment reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released since 2010, truck transportation jobs rose on a year-over-year basis in 102 of those reports, according to American Shipper.
Fuel prices now a bigger concern than trucker shortage
These recruitment efforts, combined with wage growth, are having a positive impact on the issue both in raw numbers and in perception. This past year, for example, instead of the driver shortage, fuel prices were the the top industry concern among respondents to American Transportation Research Institute's annual poll. Motor carriers being short staffed had topped the list in the past five surveys.
The trucking industry has been going to lengths beyond the almighty dollar to get more people behind the wheel. These efforts have included lowering the age at which prospective truckers can obtain their commercial drivers licenses and collaborating with the federal government to boost women's role in trucking. As Bloomberg reported, states like Oregon and New York have set up certification programs that allow women to train to receive their CDLs at no cost to them. Additionally, the $550 billion infrastructure bill that Congress passed and President Biden signed into law includes an initiative that will explore the best recruitment strategies that will resonate with women, who represent the overwhelming minority of truckers.
Meera Joshi, deputy administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told Bloomberg she's seen studies that show women tend to be safer drivers compared to men. Getting them properly trained with the skill sets they'll need to drive a commercial truck may be a recipe for success.
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