According to new analysis conducted by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. is expected to top 48,000 by the end of 2015 – a 27% jump from previous estimates – and could balloon to almost 175,000 by 2024 if current trends continue.
“The ability to find enough qualified drivers is one of our industry’s biggest challenges,” said Bill Graves, the trade group’s president and CEO, in a statement. “This latest report plainly lays out the problem – as well as some possible solutions – to the driver shortage.”
This is the fourth major analysis of the truck driver shortage conducted by ATA since 2005, noted Bob Costello, the group’s chief economist, and he stressed that this study determined that the ongoing shortage isn’t strictly a “numbers problem” anymore.
“It is a quality problem too,” he said. “Fleets consistently report receiving applications for open positions, but that many of those candidates do not meet the criteria to be hired. According our research, 88% of carriers said most applicants are not qualified.”
Jonathan Starks, director of transportation analysis at research firm FTR, told Fleet Owner that he does not expect those numbers to “change the industry’s reaction much” because all that data does is “verify” in everyone’s mind how serious the problem continues getting.
Other key findings of the report:
- Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire 890,000 new drivers, or an average of 89,000 per year.
- Roughly half, or 45%, of demand for truck drivers comes from the need to replace retiring drivers; industry growth is the second leading driver of new hiring, accounting for 33% of the need.
- ATA’s analysis does not factor in the impact of federal regulations – like electronic logging – on the shortage.
FTR’s Starks noted that last point is a “huge yet unknown” component of the driver shortage, one he likened to the proverbial 900-pound elephant overshadowing the issue.
“I completely understand why they did not incorporate the impact of federal regulations, sticking to just demographics and industry growth factors, because there just too many ‘if, and, and buts’ around it,” he explained. “There is a real struggle to define just what the regulatory impact may be but it will be huge; it’s a big element in this.”
Just the impact of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate alone could potentially exacerbate not just the driver shortage but the truck capacity issue as well, argued Derek Leathers, president and COO of Werner Enterprises, during a recent industry meeting.
“In 2014, winter storms reduced capacity 3% and that was enough to throw the entire [domestic freight shipment] network into chaos,” he explained at the 2015 FTR Transportation Conference.
“When it comes to ELDs, 60% of the industry does not have them and those that adopted them early suffered a 3% to 5% productivity hit, which took 12 to 18 months to get back,” Leathers said. “But those 60% [of carriers] that have not adopted ELDs will likely take a 5% to 10% productivity hit; that is a significant loss of capacity. And some won’t be able to recover from that.”
“Our work shows the great and growing need for drivers,” ATA’s Costello emphasized. “But we also highlight several solutions including increasing driver pay, getting drivers more time at home, as well as improving the image of the driver and their treatment by all companies in the supply chain. Make no mistake, the driver shortage is a challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one.”