Carriers, shippers and government agencies work to put more drivers behind the wheel by recruiting more diverse candidates, reducing driver age requirements and attracting a new generation of drivers to the fold.
Each year, trucks in the US move nearly 12 billion tons of freight nationwide. About 929,000 for-hire, 800,000 private and 85,000 “other” interstate motor carriers transport about 72.5% of all of the nation’s freight (by weight), according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).
With most goods consumed in the US moved by truck at some point during transport, America’s trucking industry is the lifeblood of the national economy. Impacted by driver shortages, the pandemic, the ecommerce boom and ongoing capacity constraints, both carriers and shippers have had to find creative ways to deal with this “perfect storm” of challenges.
Filling in the Gaps
The trucking sector was nearly 61,000 drivers short going into the pandemic—a number that the ATA predicts will nearly triple by 2028. These realities are hitting the tanker industry hard. According to FreightWaves, tanker companies are reporting an almost 42% reduction in qualified drivers over the last two years.
“With the typical high turnover and need for labor that goes with truck driving, the demand for tanker drivers and truckers to move equipment for oil and gas suppliers is greater than ever,” the publication points out. The dearth of drivers is affecting specialty industry segments especially hard, affecting revenue and growth.
“We haul oil field pipe to the drilling sites. We are raising our trucking rates, which means a pay raise for the drivers,” one oil field transportation company owner told FreightWaves. “They make a percentage of the load revenue. Drivers are averaging $1,500 to $1,800 per week, we have increased sign-on bonuses and referral bonuses, but still no luck.”
According to the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO), there were about 1,400 job postings for drivers with a commercial driver’s license in the Texas oil and natural gas industry in June and July, the publication reports, including 127 help wanted ads for crude oil tanker drivers.
FreightWaves says petroleum and liquid tanker transport has seen a 42% reduction in qualified driver applicants since 2019, making it the specialty trucking segment with the biggest employment gaps right now. “The driver shortage has hit the specialized segment of petroleum drivers especially hard and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue,” National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) points out.
FreightWaves reports some of the reasons cited by NTTC for the lack of qualified tanker drivers as an aging workforce (80% of truck drivers are over the age of 45, while 23% of petroleum drivers are over the age of 55); age requirements (drivers must be 21 for an interstate CDL and 23 to deliver hazmat); certification requirements and negative perceptions surrounding the truck-driving lifestyle.
Filling the Driver’s Seat
The US isn’t alone in its struggle to put more drivers behind the wheel. The UK is currently facing its own woes on the truck driver front, where oil companies have been forced to close gas stations due to the problem. The industry needs 90,000 drivers to ease the shortage of HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers in a post-Brexit world. Concurrently, the coronavirus pandemic also prevented new drivers from qualifying to get working permission.
"My business has about 100 HGV drivers short, and that is making it increasingly very, very difficult to service our shops," one supermarket manager told TRT World. "It is a concern and as we look to build stock as an industry, to work towards our bumper time of year, Christmas, we're now facing this shortage at the worst possible time. I am worried.”
The situation is forcing carriers and shippers to find creative ways to get shipments from point A to point B in a world that clearly can’t function without truckers. “Trucking has emerged as one of the most acute bottlenecks in a supply chain that has all but unraveled amid the pandemic,” Transport Topics reports, “worsening supply shortages across industries, further fanning inflation and threatening a broader economic recovery.”
This includes working harder to recruit a more diverse selection of new drivers and adopting technology that helps them more readily manage, track and gain visibility over their supply chains. The NTTC also recommends programs that allow current driver trainees to speedily obtain commercial driver’s licenses and the reduction of the minimum CDL testing age.
“By coupling expanded driving opportunities for 18-20 year-olds with common sense, graduated licensing requirements,” NTTC adds, “we can expand the labor pool and provide good, long-lasting and well-paying trucking careers to a new generation.”
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