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The Truck Driver Shortage and COVID-19

In this blog post, I will highlight the truck driver shortage that is currently plaguing countless industries across the country and the traditional reasons for the shortage. Additionally, I will explain how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the truck driver shortage and identify some solutions to overcoming it.

The truck driver shortage is not an issue that came to fruition because of COVID-19, and it has been a problem for over a decade. According to the American Trucking Association, there has been a shortage since at least 2005, with many other sources claiming there has been a shortage long before then. In 2005, there was a shortage of about 20,000 drivers and there is currently a shortage of about 63,000 drivers. The emergence of COVID-19 has only made it worse, and it is predicted that the shortage will increase to 160,000 by 2028 if nothing is put in place to slow it down or eliminate it.

Traditionally, the truck driver shortage was caused by an aging workforce that was failing to be replaced at a high enough rate. According to Coyote Logistics and Emsi, 57% of the workforce is over 45. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of the workforce is 45. Aside from an aging workforce, the lifestyle associated with truckers is not very attractive to young blue-collar workers and many of them are more attracted to jobs in construction or warehousing. Other barriers to the trucking industry include training fees of up to $7,000 to obtain a CDL and a federal law that prohibits anyone under 21 from driving freight over state lines. Without COVID-19 in the picture, the trucking industry was still struggling.

When COVID-19 hit, it only increased the truck driver shortage and made it much harder for the aging workforce to be replaced. For example, many truck driving schools were forced to shut down during the lockdown which did not allow new drivers to enter the workforce. When those schools finally opened back up, there was limited capacity because of social distancing rules and regulations. Because of this, drivers could not be trained at a high enough rate to fill vacant truck driver positions. According to Robert Costello the Senior Vice President of the American Trucking Association, about 40% fewer drivers were trained in 2020 compared to 2019 which accounted for tens of thousands of drivers who could not enter the workforce. Some other issues relating to the shortage were that the pandemic introduced new customers to e-commerce which accelerated the growth of online shopping and deliveries. This increased the number of goods that needed to be transported by trucks and drove up the demand for truck drivers who weren’t available. Finally, with the sudden reopening of the economy, there weren’t enough truck drivers to meet demand which led to longer lead times, late deliveries, stockouts in stores, an increase in prices for consumers and suppliers, and increased shipping delays.

This issue is one to be taken very seriously because of the large role trucking plays in the current economy. According to Redwood Logistics, over 68% of all freight in the United States is moved by truck. Because of this, the effects of the shortage can be felt by everyone.

To decrease or eliminate the shortage, several steps can potentially be taken. For example, companies could start by increasing pay or including better benefits packages so that truck driving positions are more attractive to young blue-collar workers. Even if the lifestyle is unattractive, more money could draw more people to trucking if they can earn a higher income versus construction and warehousing workers. Additionally, companies could target women and minorities as potential truck drivers because they currently make up a small percentage of the truck driving workforce. According to the American Trucking Association, 39% of CDL holders are minorities and 6% are women. By targeting these demographics and giving them more opportunities, they could begin to chip away at the shortage by having a larger pool of candidates to choose from. A more extreme approach would be to explore implementing autonomous trucking which would eliminate the need for truck drivers. However, we are at least a decade away from self-driving trucks, so other alternatives will have to be explored to fight the shortage until autonomous trucking is safe and effective.

Overall, the truck driver shortage was an issue before COVID-19. However, COVID-19 made the shortage much worse and brought new challenges to the transportation and logistics industry. As this shortage affects the whole country, steps to decrease it must be taken to avoid consequences such as longer lead times, late deliveries, stockouts in stores, an increase in prices for consumers and suppliers, and increased shipping delays.

Authored by: Nick Bink

References:

https://resources.coyote.com/source/driver-shortage-infographic

What is Causing the Truck Driver Shortage and How Can We Fix It

https://www.supplychain247.com/article/the_upside_of_covd19_pandemic_truck_driver_shortages https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/how-trucking-companies-areresponding-to-a-critical-driver-shortage.aspx

https://www.wlwt.com/article/businesses-consumers-feel-impact-of-delivery-driver-shortage/37119188 https://6abc.com/trucking-truck-shortage-in-need-of-drivers-american-association/10734804/

https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/trucking-industry-facing-driver-shortage https://www.trucking.org/sites/default/files/2020- 01/ATAs%20Driver%20Shortage%20Report%202019%20with%20cover.pdf

https://journalistsresource.org/home/truck-driver-shortage/ https://ectts.com/how-far-away-are-we-from-self-driving-trucks/

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