Trucks at Work

Time running short to solve trucking’s workforce shrinkage issue

So I’ve been down in Nashville, TN, this week at the 2015 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting listening and looking (of course) at all sorts of equipment and technology solutions available to motor carriers these days.

Yet it’s the industry’s most vital human components – truck drivers and technicians – where solutions are most desperately needed. And the clock is winding down fast where this challenge is concerned.

“We’ve got to get out ahead of ourselves on this problem,” noted Dwayne Haug, VP of equipment purchasing for Werner Enterprises, during a panel discussion (seen at right) during this week’s conference.

He added that for 34 years the U.S. education systems has “moved away” from vocational training; a shift that’s had “a terrible impact on our young people” and on the trucking industry ever since.

“We’re not going to find technicians the traditional way today because enrollment is down in the tech schools,” Haug pointed out. “We need to get down more among the younger generation and show them that our shops and fleets have changed.”

He also believes the entire industry must do better – OEMs, fleets, and service providers alike – in terms of creating a “cohesive environment” for changing trucking’s image.

Yet the clock may run out on any such effort if it doesn’t get started soon, at least according to data shared by Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), in a recent conference call hosted by Wall Street investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.

Here are some of ATRI’s grim findings about drivers and other industry challenges:

  • Out of the truck driver population in 2013, 56% were older than 45 years of age, whereas only 49% of the nation’s total workforce was 45 years of age or older in 2013.
  • In 1994, 40% of the nation’s truck drivers were 34 years old or younger, while in 2013, only 21% of the nation’s truck drivers were 34 years old or younger.
  • In 1994, 31% of the nation’s truck drivers were 45 years of age or older while in 2013, 56% of the nation’s truck drivers were 45 years old or older.
  • The shortage of truck parking is a primary concern for many drivers across the industry. Drivers are spending 15 to 30 minutes of otherwise productive time looking for a scarce, safe parking spot.
  • Highway congestion is sapping trucking’s productivity, costing the industry an estimated $9.2 billion per year and effectively increasing the size of the required driver force by some 51,000 drivers.

Those numbers certainly don’t paint a pretty picture for the industry. Yet no short term fix will get them where they need to be, either.

“The baby boom generation is retiring but the generations replacing them are smaller in numbers,” noted Mike Jeffress, VP of maintenance for Maverick Transportation, during the TMC panel discussion. “That’s just part of the significant workforce challenge we face.”

Let’s hope time doesn’t expire on developing strategies to address that issue, then.

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