Why Is There a Labor Shortage Among Truck Drivers?

image of semi truck on the road with blog title

Turn on the news and you're likely to hear about shortages in everything from food to furniture to kids toys.  While some experts would blame the massive fleet of cargo ships sitting out in ocean waters waiting to be unloaded, is that the only cause?

A labor shortage in trucking is also a culprit to many of the shortages Americans are facing. But what is causing the truck driver labor shortage? Is it as simple as hiring more drivers?

The American Trucking Association says the trucking industry is short 80,000 drivers to adequately handle the demand for American goods and services. 

Read on to learn more about the labor shortage among truck drivers and what's driving the shortages. 

Labor Shortages 

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the news is filled with stories about the mass exodus of the American workforce. In some cases, workers lose their jobs, in other cases, the workers choose to walk away.

So, is it one singular thing causing the shortage or a combination of factors?

It seems like there are three big factors and then any number of other supporting problems with the field of trucking. Let's take a closer look. 

Age Demographics

It seems the field of trucking has an age problem. Consider this, the average age of a truck driver is 55 years old. The average age of a new driver is 35 years old. 

In the next 10 or more years the average truck driver will reach retirement age. 

The workforce of truck drivers is rapidly aging and without bringing in younger workers, the field will continue to struggle. More and more truckers are reaching retirement age and the same number that's leaving outweighs the new drivers entering the arena. 

If you consider just age, the truck driver shortages are actually going to get worse before they get better unless something is done to bring in new workers. 

Gender Demographics

The next big issue for trucking lies in a serious gender gap. Trucking jobs are predominantly held by men.  A large percentage of the trucking industry is run by men. 

The problem with trucking is that women make up a whopping 50.4% of the American workforce. Over half the jobs held in this country are held by women. 

Trucking will not only struggle in future years with the age problem they have but also with the gender one too. 

If the trucking industry wants to fix itself, it needs to figure out how to tap into the group that makes up over half of the workforce, women. 

Lifestyle of a Trucker

The other major issue for truckers is their lifestyle. Yes, some truckers work local routes and could be home after a shift on the job. 

The reality is though that many truckers work cross-country runs and are gone for days and weeks at a time. While some favor the solitary existence trucking provides, for many others it's a deterrent. 

As a long-distance trucker, you must learn to live away from your home and family. This means eating in truck stops where you might not find the healthiest food and showering there too. You need to learn to sleep in your truck while you have downtime. 

Not only can it be a taxing and lonely existence, but it can also lead to some bad health consequences. From being sedentary for hours on end to eating unhealthy foods day in and day out, the life of a trucker can be hard. 

Pandemic Impact

Before the onset of the pandemic, the trucking industry had a labor force of 1.52 million workers. Enter Covid-19 and those numbers look much different. 

In fact, it's believed that trucking was one of the worst-hit industries as a result of the pandemic. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics actually reports that at the height of the pandemic trucking lost about 6% of the overall labor force in trucking.

That means that more than 91,000 trucking jobs were left or eliminated as a result of the pandemic. That is a pretty impactful number.

Truck Driver Labor Shortage Reasons

Beyond those four big reasons, there are other reasons to keep people from either entering the field or staying put. So while trucking provides a decent wage and consistent work, there are things keeping workers from staying. 

Let's take a closer look at some other issues for truckers in the industry.

Driver Turnover

There is a high rate of driver turnover in the industry. Some suggest the problem isn't bringing in new workers. In fact, these same experts believe workers do enter the field of trucking. 

The real problem lies in retaining them. Once new drivers experience some of the things that make the job hard, like being away from home for days on end, they realize it isn't the job for them. 

Other truckers are choosing to leave the field because of:

  • Wages
  • Working conditions
  • Job demands

In theory, the job involves driving. Yet, many find once they actually start driving for hours and days on end, it's much more physically taxing than they realized. 

Wages

Like many fields, truckers feel like they aren't compensated properly for the work they perform. This is especially true when factoring in the hours they put in working.  

Rarely is a truck driver paid hourly. Instead, often they are paid by the mile. So, this doesn't factor in the times when they're hung up in traffic or the times they're loading and unloading. 

The issue for wages becomes how they add up in comparison with the hours put in as a truck driver. Some drivers are realizing the pay isn't worth it. 

Expenses

The truth is that it costs more to be a truck driver than it used to. Whether you're talking about fuel costs or food on the road, inflation and cost of living numbers make it more expensive to be in the field. 

Unpaid Work Time

When a company pays a driver for their mileage, they don't account for the time when they are working but the truck isn't moving. 

Before a driver can take off, they need to load a truck. When they arrive at a destination, the truck needs to be unloaded. Technically, the driver is working even though the truck isn't moving. 

It's really the reason many companies chose to start paying by mileage instead of time. Workers are realizing they are being under-compensated. 

Risk

Trucking has become riskier for drivers. In 2019, there were 4,119 deaths related to large truck accidents. 16% of those deaths were for occupants in the truck itself. 

Technology is impacting how safely drivers on the road operate their vehicles. More cars and trucks are out on the roads than ever before. The higher risk means truck drivers really have to protect themselves with insurance. Any type of accident on the road means facing litigation.

The job itself also brings risk. Whether that is facing bad roads from weather conditions while driving or carrying a risky load. 

Many trucks carry large loads that can shift or move while driving, also creating a risk. 

For cross-country drivers, fatigue creates a real risk for their safety too. 

Restricted Driving Times and Unpaid Work Time

The trucking industry is very regulated. Truck drivers must record when they are driving and when they are resting and off the road. They can only drive for so long before mandatory breaks must occur. 

While there are good reasons these regulations were put in place, most involve safety, they can create some challenges too. 

If a driver is held up with traffic or loading delays during a time when he should be driving, he can't make that time up during rest time. 

For drivers who get paid by mileage, downtime also means the time when they aren't getting paid, even if they are out on a job. It can even mean they aren't paid for times when they are stuck in traffic or loading and unloading 

Why Consider Trucking as a Career 

In a job market where the worker is in control, there are still several good reasons to consider trucking as a career.  Any job has its downsides to consider. But driving a truck can be a good career choice. 

Pay for truck drivers is lucrative right now. Truck drivers who opt for long routes or carry more dangerous loads will make more money. 

Because there is a great demand for truck drivers, many companies are even offering signing bonuses and incentives to join the team.

Again, because of demand, many companies are also choosing to pay to train their drivers and help them gain their CDL license. 

Finally, the trucking community is tight-knit. Truckers support each other and it's nice to be in a career where your colleagues are supportive and understand your job.

Driving the Labor Shortage in Trucking

There's no doubt that the labor shortage has impacted the trucking industry like other industries. While trucking can be lucrative, it comes with challenges too. 

If you're interested in the field and need insurance, we can help. Contact us today to get more information on our trucking insurance options.