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The Last Word

What if You're the Answer to the Driver Shortage

By Rebecca M. Brewster Guest Writer

Last December, ATRI issued a report that documented what many of you already suspected was occurring in the trucking industry—our workforce is aging, and we’re not bringing in young people to replace those who have spent a lifetime delivering the nation’s freight.

The ATRI analysis, which utilized data from the U.S. Census Bureau, highlights a challenging future for the trucking industry based on demographic data and a dramatic upward shift in the average age of the industry’s driver workforce.

ATRI’s analysis found that the trucking industry is now disproportionately dependent on employees 45 years of age or older, many of whom will retire in the next 10-20 years.  Complicating this is a sharp decrease over the past 20 years in the number of younger drivers that make up the industry, particularly those under 35.

Distribution of Employees 20 Years of Age and Older

graph

Source: American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

There are many forces behind this trend. You can reasonably argue that the lifestyle challenges of a truck driving career impede our ability to attract younger individuals. Extended stretches away from home, increasing operational costs, significant shortage of truck parking and increasing regulatory impacts all combine to make trucking less desirable as a career choice. Then there’s the waiting; waiting at customer facilities, waiting at roadside inspections, and waiting in traffic congestion. In fact, ATRI research on traffic congestion documented what equates to 51,000 truck drivers sitting idle for an entire year as a result of congestion on the Interstate system.

Beyond lifestyle issues, certainly one of the biggest impediments to increasing the industry’s cohort of younger workers is the gap between high school graduation at 18 and CDL eligibility at 21. High School students who might be interested in a career in trucking must wait an additional three years before they can drive a truck across state borders, and at that point, they have likely chosen some other path in life. ATRI has research underway now to explore the potential for a graduated CDL which would provide younger drivers a way to safely stair step their experience to a full CDL.

One of the alarming findings to come out of ATRI’s demographic analysis was the dearth of high school vocational education offerings available to introduce students to a career in transportation. ATRI examined U.S. Department of Education data and found that less than 30 percent of public high schools across the country have vo-tech offerings in transportation.

So maybe you can’t single-handedly fix the congestion problem or the regulatory impacts or the sheer demographics of the U.S. workforce. But you can make a call today to your local high school to find out how you can help expand their offerings in transportation. You can create an internship at your local terminal so a high school student gets first-hand experience in the freight industry. You can provide high school students the opportunity to come see your maintenance shop in action so they think about a career as diesel technician. You can donate a vehicle you’re getting ready to retire to your local high school so the students can regularly experience a truck up close.

Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers in the U.S. Imagine the driver recruitment opportunity that is presented if we all just reach out to one high school to find out how we can get involved. One thing is for sure – we won’t move freight in the future if we can’t fill the seats.

Brewster is president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute. She leads the research activities of the Institute in the areas of safety and human factors; environmental factors; technology; transportation security; and economic analysis.

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 372-3462 | Phone
(501) 376-1810 | Fax

Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
  • SERVE our members to help them to grow their business and their profits
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