The trucking industry was once considered a go-to source for steady work, fair pay, and a liberating work arrangement that beat out other top choices by a wide margin.
But things are different in 2018. Pay hasn’t kept up with the increased cost of living. Regulations make the once-liberating work environment stifling, rigid, and inconsistent. Some drivers are lucky if they can get a consistent schedule in today’s freight industry due in large part to regulatory oversight crippling carriers’ ability to function.
There’s also the issue of veteran drivers retiring and a lack of younger workers coming in to take their place. The average age of a truck driver is 55, significantly above the average for other industries.
The American Trucking Associations estimates that the U.S. currently needs about 50,000 truck drivers. While some stats say this figure represents a shortage from a pool of billions, others say it’s from a pool of about 500,000. This makes the shortage even more troubling than originally thought.
The shortage isn’t just affecting those who make their living in the trucking industry. It’s putting pressure on shippers, and this, in turn, is inching up the prices of many consumer goods. With the shortage forecasted to get much worse if action isn’t taken, companies are pulling out every solution they can think of.
Some companies are realizing they have to sweeten the deal at the beginning to get drivers to come aboard. Sign-on bonuses for solo drivers have jumped to around $15,000, while the same bonuses for team drivers have climbed up to the $50,000 range. For a simple bonus, that’s impressive. But there’s no guarantee it’s a complete solution.
Some carriers believe drivers are struggling to afford the training they need, and this could be another factor influencing their decision to pursue other lines of work. The logic is if a trucking school education and a college degree will both cause a person to go into debt, one may have well take the latter for its ability to open up more opportunities for work.
A recent attempt by truckers to get the age for CDL testing lowered from 21 to 18 didn’t receive a lot of support, as many believe the problem can’t be solved by making it easier to get on the road. They believe the bigger problem trucking is facing may not have to do with staffing at all – it could be based on retention.
The trucking industry’s image in the minds of many doesn’t match up to the reality they face once they’re in the cab with their hands on the wheel. When some newcomers see the way things are compared to their initial expectations, they’re tempted to leave quickly.
For companies offering big sign-on bonuses, this means their solution may even be counter-productive in a way. Carriers that want to keep drivers on in the long-term need to offer long-term perks. This could include anniversary bonuses, company stock plans, and time-based vacation/paid-time-off packages.