How many more workers will the trucking industry need in 2014? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its answer to that question on December 7, 2005, along with projections for hundreds of other industries and occupations. The answer may surprise you.
The demand for trucking workers will depend on how much the economy as a whole is expected to grow, and on any assumed change in the mix of products and how they are carried.
BLS expects that the for-hire trucking industry will grow more rapidly in the coming decade than in the one just ended, with an annual average rate of change of real output measuring 3.5%, vs. 2.5% earlier. Other transportation industries will also accelerate their output. Rail transportation will grow at a 3.3% rate, vs. 0.7%. Air transportation (passenger and freight) will grow 5%, vs. 4.2%.
Thanks to continuing productivity gains, BLS expects the for-hire trucking industry will increase employment at an annual rate of only 0.9%, down from 1.1% last decade and considerably less than the 1.3% rate for all non-agricultural wage and salary employment. In absolute numbers, the agency projects employment at trucking companies will go up by 129,000 between 2004 and 2014, compared to the 145,000 gain in 1994-2004.
If that sounds manageable, consider the figures by occupation. These count all workers, for-hire and private. BLS projects that the net number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers will rise by 223,000, or 13%, the same as the growth in overall employment. But the need to find replacements for drivers who retire or change occupations will boost total hiring to 507,000. Note that replacements are only those who leave the occupation, not people who change jobs. BLS does not try to track job-hoppers within an occupation.
In addition, the number of light-truck and delivery service drivers will swell by 164,000, or 16%. Total job openings, including replacements, will number 259,000.
The number of “laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand,” many of whom work on loading docks and in other trucking-connected jobs, will go up by 248,000, or 10%. The very high turnover in these jobs means that replacements plus net new hires will total 1.04 million.
First-line supervisors/managers of transportation and material-moving machine and vehicle operators will grow by a net of 35,000, or 15%. Replacements will add another 53,000 to that figure.
The number of bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists will climb by 39,000, or 14%. Another 69,000 replacements will be needed for this occupation.
The bottom line: BLS projects that the for-hire trucking industry will continue to experience growth in output and productivity. Its demand for employees will grow a little more slowly in 2004-2014 than in the preceding decade. But trucking companies need to consider the demand from private trucking as well.
The net increase in long- and short-haul truckers, mechanics, and front-line supervisors will grow faster than the rest of the economy. The combined growth of employment and replacement demand for materials-moving occupations, such as dock and warehouse workers, will also be high. In short, the industry — for-hire and private — will have to keep the help-wanted signs up for another decade.
For more details on the BLS projections, see the November 2005 issue of the Monthly Labor Review, online at www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/mlrhome.htm.