The American Trucking Association is warning that today’s 80,000 truck driver shortage could double to more than 160,000 in less than a decade.
It’s a perfect storm of drivers leaving the industry at a time when more are needed to keep up with increasing consumer freight demand, and there are no easy solutions, said David Taylor, president of Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association in Harrisburg.
“When you think about it everything people purchase…was delivered by a truck,” he said.
From raw materials delivered to manufacturing facilities and then to customer destinations, trucking makes the world go round.
“Trucking under girds our civilization and our quality of life,” Taylor said. “So, when we don’t have enough folks to drive the trucks to deliver the goods it complicates everything. This is why we see empty shelves and long delays.”
A report by ATA estimated that by 2030, a 160,000 shortage of drivers could plague an already beleaguered sector.
Some reasons driving the shortage include:
- Drivers leaving before retirement.
- Drivers pushed out of the industry.
- Industry growth.
- A significant number of anticipated driver retirements.
The report used data based on current active drivers and the ideal number of drivers based on the demands of moving freight.
“Last year a lot of drivers left the industry. We lost a tranche of drivers,” said Rebecca Oyler, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association in Camp Hill, Cumberland County. She noted a backlog of new drivers unable to get into the system, CDL schools shut down or limiting enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic combined to make today’s driver shortage worse.
“And DMVs [Department of Motor Vehicle] agencies across the country were not licensing truck drivers. Some cut down the amount they were licensing,” she said.
The average age of a truck driver is 47, Oyler said.
Cause for optimism
But, while the landscape looks bleak, there may yet be a silver living. Some industry employers are responding by increasing salaries – in some cases as much as 21% – breaking long-haul routes into shorter trips and trying to make routes more appealing to drivers.
Interest in earning a commercial driver’s license or CDL is also on the rise, reported by two Lehigh Valley CDL schools.
Michael Glanz, director of operations for CC Training, the truck driving program provider at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville said overall interest in truck driving and obtaining a CDL license is steady and it’s up.
“We’re seeing an increase across the board. There is tremendous interest in the program and industry,” he said. “There are certainly jobs to be had.”
Efforts to change legislation through the DRIVE-Safe Act to allow CDL drivers under 21 to drive across state lines could help ease the shortage, she said. Federal law currently limits drivers under 21 to in-state only trips.
“The [age limitation] is causing a lot of problems…and DRIVE-Safe is part of a federal pilot program that will allow a certain category to drive across state lines and help get young people into the industry,” she said.
Gene Barr, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg said workforce needs to better connect with truck driver candidates about industry jobs and careers.
“A lot of people in other industries are rethinking what they want to do, and a lot of trucking companies are acknowledging people don’t want to be away from home for days on end,” Barr said.
Government mandated shutdowns in Pennsylvania slammed the brakes on driver training in 2020. Driving school enrollments are healthy and continue to increase, said Brad Ball, president of Roadmaster Driver School of Bethlehem.
Roadmaster operates truck driver schools in 18 locations across the country and is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“While a lot of drivers were retiring early because of COVID, schools were unable to produce the number they had in the past, or they had to close down completely in places like Pennsylvania and Nevada,” Ball said.
While those shutdowns impacted truck driving schools and graduates, Roadmaster offers driver training enrollments weekly on Mondays. The program takes four weeks to complete, and candidates test for their CDL license during week five.
Targeted growth in the northeastern U.S. makes Bethlehem a prime CDL school location. About 700 drivers graduate from the Bethlehem location.
“Bethlehem is and always has been a high demand area for drivers. Even things coming from overseas, at the end of the day have to move by truck to get to homes, businesses and stores,” Ball said.
Classes continue for four weeks, and those who complete the course may take their CDL test in the fifth week. Because Roadmaster pre-qualifies student candidates those who pass the CDL test immediately go to work for a trucking carrier.
“At some point you have to look at how you can get more people at the top of this funnel,” Ganz said.
New rules coming
In February, new minimum requirements will set a baseline for those entering the trucking industry. The new rules are part of the rollout of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Entry Level Driving Training (ELDT) initiatives.
“All truck driver training providers are going to have to train with a minimum set of curricula that everyone has to do,” Ball explained.
The new training could level the field for interstate trucking and make driving more competitive for new candidates to enter the sector.
“We need to be more mindful of the role these workers play in our economy, and the service they render,” Taylor said.