The truck driving industry is one of the most vital cornerstones of the American economy – but that doesn’t mean new workers are flooding in.
Trucking is the preferred modality for freight transport and one of the main sources for jobs across all 50 states. However, trucking is also lacking in certain areas.
Namely, the shortcomings relate to roster size, as carriers have been struggling to get enough talent to meet market demand. With freight levels soaring in 2018 and many veteran drivers nearing retirement, it’s a perfect combination of factors to put America’s truckers in a tough spot.
Ever since the period of deregulation in the 1980s that saw more drivers coming aboard, it has been hard to keep hiring and retention numbers where they need to be. But the driver shortage just keeps getting worse, made potentially even more dire by new legislation like the ELD mandate.
Many solutions have been discussed to address the shortage, including overhauling pay models and focusing more on long-term job benefits, like company stock plans. But a recent bill introduced in the House of Representatives may also open trucking up to a new pool of potential applicants.
The DRIVE-Safe Act (for Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy) would present 18- to 21-year-old individuals with the chance to obtain a commercial driver’s license. The bill was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.). It requires drivers to log 400 hours on duty and 240 hours of driving time with a licensed trucker.
Current federal laws restrict people in the 18-21 age group from piloting Class 8 rigs over state lines. Representatives have pointed out potential problems with this model and have also noted how updating it and making it easier for younger truckers to join the workforce could have many benefits.
Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations, spoke favorably of the bill. He noted it would present an employment opportunity to young adults that doesn’t involve the high debts of a college degree. He also said it would help strengthen training programs across the nation and tighten safety requirements for drivers.
The current shortage of drivers has left the industry with about 50,000 positions to fill. It is likely that more drivers on the current workforce will continue heading toward retirement. While the average age of a U.S. worker is about 42, the average trucker for a private carrier is about a decade older.
That leaves thousands more positions to be filled in the coming years – years that are also expected to see slow but steady improvements in freight demand and pricing. While some carriers are experimenting with autonomy in their desperation, even self-driving trucks can’t bridge the labor gap.
Multiple ATA partners, including UPS, International Foodservice Distributors Association, and the Indiana Motor Truck Association, have all come out in support of the bill.
Higher pay has halted turnover rates, but that may not be enough – to grow their labor force, trucking companies may need to target the younger demographic.