Whether you want to call it a shortage or a “driver retention” issue is semantics. There’s a “capacity crunch,” and the issue is not a new one for the trucking industry. According to a 1998 report published in the Monthly Labor Review, deregulation led 586,000 new trucking employees to enter the industry between 1980 and 1994. Still, with the large entrance of new trucking companies, driver shortages were a major issue, as the resulting increased competition and low trucking margins pressured driver wages and made recruitment difficult. According to the ATA, “To move 9.2 billion tons of freight annually requires nearly 3 million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks and over 3 million truck drivers.” America needs truck drivers.
In addition to the persistent need for more drivers within a fragmented industry, there are additional headwinds that the trucking industry faces makes trucker recruitment difficult, particularly regarding younger drivers.
1. Commercial Drivers License (CDL) requirements
The industry misses out in recruiting drivers after high school graduation, as the federal requirement is that interstate CDL holders be 21 years or older. As such, many potential young drivers are lost to other occupations, additional schooling, or military service. Additionally, for insurance requirements, the minimum age is bumped to 25 years for certain segments of the trucking industry, like hazmat or long-haul trucking. Finally, the time and financial requirements to attain a CDL is a detraction for some individuals, especially in a tight overall labor market. A CDL generally requires several weeks of training and testing, as well as tuition at a CDL school that can run as high as $7k.
2. Competition from other trucking sectors
The growth in e-commerce (i.e., the Amazon effect) has greatly increased the need for trucking in other sectors. Separately, the growth of Uber and Lyft has created competition for drivers in the non-CDL arena. As such, companies that are recruiting drivers for the oil sector, many of which are centered in remote locations, face increased competition from potentially more attractive driver positions in other segments and geographies.
3. Discouraging immigrant drivers
Or least keeping the issue quiet. Last year Fleet Owner reached out to eight industry stakeholders with multiple phone calls and email messages to discuss immigrants in the U.S. trucking industry and either received no response or the equivalent of “no comment.” But the reluctance to speak about the issue flies in the face of the fact that recruitment of immigrant drivers appears to be successful.
Currently, of the 1.2 million motor carrier-employed U.S. truck drivers (operating Class 8 trucks) about 224,722 or 18.6% are immigrants, according to U.S. Census data for 2011-2015 as analyzed by Justin Lowry, PhD, a Postdoctoral Researcher at George Mason University's Institute for Immigration Research. Figures for 2010-2012 clocked in at 15.7%, he said.
If you are a foreign worker hoping to work as a truck driver in the US, you may be served best by applying for an H-2B Visa. Then, you have to secure an eligible job offer from an employer who has the necessary paperwork on their end, including a temporary labor certification for H-2B workers and successful submission and approval of Form I-129. Without a job offer and an employer to sponsor you, you can’t apply for the visa. USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services) states that your potential employer must also verify that the work will be temporary (under 12 months), prove a shortage of available US workers, and verify your experience in your field. The job must also offer payment equal to the prevailing wage for truck drivers where the company is located. And the current structure of the Visas don’t consider truck drivers “skilled labor.” Ouch.
4. Health Considerations
In today’s more health-conscious society, it’s quite obvious to most job seekers that a position as a truck driver doesn’t promote one’s overall physical wellbeing. As to be expected with a stationary job, studies have shown that truck drivers on average have higher levels of obesity and lower life expectancies than most other occupations. The ATRI has proposed several initiatives to address this issue, including encouraging exercise facilities and healthy food choices at truck stops and travel plazas. Still, it seems health concerns will continue to negatively impact the attractiveness of the job for many potential drivers.
5. Drug testing
As FreightWaves has previously reported, six major carriers have asked the FMCSA for an exemption from urinalysis so they can switch exclusively to hair testing: J.B. Hunt, Schneider, Werner, Knight, Dupre Logistics, and Maverick. Schneider in particular said that by conducting side-by-side hair and urine screening, the company discovered that hair tests yield positive results at four times the rate of urinalysis.
Sadly, many companies report that the ability to pass a drug test has become more difficult for many job applicants. This issue disqualifies applicants for many positions, not just truck drivers. (Although successfully passing a drug test seems particularly important to operating a truck or any large piece of mobile equipment.) Also, the trend to follicle drug testing, rather than urine testing, has enhanced the detection of illegal substances in an applicant’s body and has led to higher levels of drug test failures reported to companies. While it may help with safety and insurance costs, it’s yet another prohibiting factory in the stubborn issue of supply and demand for Over the Road truckers.
The issue is complicated and fragmented, but whether you define it as a “shortage” or a “retention” issue, the question is: What’s being done about it?
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