The American Trucking Associations reports that 70 percent of freight in the United States is transported by trucks, amounting to nearly 9 billion tons of freight per year. However, one of the major challenges to the American shipping industry is a severe shortage of truck drivers.
This shortage is major freight industry news because it significantly affects the shipping industry, which accounts for 8 percent of the gross domestic product of the American economy. High truck driver demand is taxing the industry.
Truck Driver Job Outlook on the Freight Industry
According to the ATA, an estimated 38,000 more truck drivers are needed now — and that number may rise to 48,000 within the year.
There are a few reasons for the shortage of truck drivers. One reason is that strict regulations from the Department of Transportation are making it more difficult for companies to hire more drivers.
There are also fewer new drivers drawn to the industry because many young adults don’t see the job as desirable. According to the Department of Labor, the median pay rate of $40,000 for a truck driver is usually not high enough to sway those who may be considering the job. In addition, the majority of the industry’s truck drivers are aging and closer to retirement, with a median age of 49.
Freight Industry Growth Is Driving the Increase in Truck Driver Demand
Trucking industry trends have shown that there has never been a greater need for dedicated and experienced drivers. The amount of freight arriving in the United States has already increased substantially and is expected to grow by 40 percent over the next three decades, according to the DOT.
The recent number of ocean containers arriving at the Los Angeles and Long Beach (LA/LGB) ports has broken records and surpassed all expectations for the year. This puts strain on the entire system and is causing congestion and delays at many points along the supply chain. Some drivers are reporting turn times of up to five hours at many of the terminals in these two ports.
With such a backlog of container deliveries, drivers are suffering from long gate and flip lines. To make the situation worse, there is not enough chassis to support the increased freight load. This is causing such long wait times that some drivers are asked to leave terminals without any load. This is a problem not just in the LA/LGB ports, but also in the nation’s second-largest port complex, New York-New Jersey. Subsequently, stress is being felt on the entire shipping industry.
The delays have pushed more freight business onto the intermodal systems of railroads, which have already hit record numbers this past season. Shippers have reported diverting nearly 2 percent of their freight from truck to rail. Many importers have even had to redirect shipments to East Coast and Canadian ports, which is causing congestion in those areas, too. The shortage of truck drivers is putting stress on the first and last miles of the intermodal run as well, which is again causing problems across the shipping industry and continuing to raise demand for truck drivers.
The continuous growth of the freight industry threatens to make these issues worse in the near future, with the demand for truck drivers expected to rise to 239,000 new drivers by 2022.
In response to the shortage, many trucking companies are starting to offer better wages, introduce signing bonuses and increase their recruitment efforts. These efforts will likely drive up shipping rates, and it remains unclear if it will be enough to solve the truck driver shortage.