Driver shortage extends beyond trucking industry

Driver shortage extends beyond trucking industry
A nation-wide trucking shortage has started to hit the bottom-line of other companies that rely on truckers to deliver freight. Trucking industry members attribute it to an aging driver population and want to make it easier to recruit young adults fresh out of high school. Photo: PRA

A lack of drivers to meet freight demand isn’t a new problem to the trucking industry both nationally or in Washington state, but now it’s starting to affect businesses and customers that rely on them. Also, some believe the problem could get even worse.

The American Trucking Association reports a nation-wide shortage of 50,000 drivers, while Seattle-based Amazon has raised the price of its Prime membership for two-day shipping by 20 percent.

“It’s not just affecting trucking companies at this point, it’s affecting shippers,” Washington Trucking Associations Executive Vice President Sheri Call said. “At some point it’s going to impact consumers. Whether they know it or not, consumers are already feeling it.”

Washington’s trucking industry is composed of 16,670 companies that employ 138,770 people. Altogether, they transport 80 percent of the total manufactured tonnage in the state, and almost 80 percent of Washington communities “depend exclusively” on trucks to move their goods.

However, Becker Trucking Inc. owner and WTA President Frank Riordan told Lens that “we turn down business every day” due to a lack of drivers. He said at one point a company had 300 trucks sitting idle due to a lack of drivers.

“We recruit constantly and have for the last probably four years,” he said.

While the issue has received more widespread coverage, a 2017 ATA report indicates the problem has been around since roughly 2005. That’s when the driver shortage was roughly 20,000 drivers. If nothing changes, that figure could be as high as 176,000 by 2026.

Call says it shows that the new federal electronic monitoring requirements aren’t to blame for the freight shortage.

The report attributes the driver shortage in part to an older driver population that is retiring either due to age or health.  The average truck driver age is 55, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, “young people aren’t coming into the industry” to replace them, Riordan said. “They can’t find drivers to haul loads anymore.”

Also, the ATA report notes that many trucking companies “are highly selective in hiring drivers because they have made safety and professionalism high priorities.”

Glassdoor reports the average Class A driver salary is $42,338, and Riordan says that can go up to $60,000. “If you want to be a local guy (where) you’re home every night, you make a wage that can take care of a family,” Riordan said. “We provide medical insurance, retirement, vacation (and) paid sick leave. Some companies are on their third and fourth raise trying to keep people on board.”

One way to fill empty trucks is by lowering the minimum age for out-of-state driving from 21 to 18, he adds. “We can’t even recruit them at 18. In three years, you lose them to other jobs. Nobody waits until 21 to drive a truck.”

ATA supported congressional legislation introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California) known as the DRIVE-Safe Act that would accomplish that. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Also in support of the legislation is the International Foodservice Distributors Association.

“As a trade association we’re looking for other avenues to attract drivers to the industry,” Call said.

Riordan said: “I think it’s a great industry; it’s the only thing I’ve ever been in my life. How you can order from Amazon and have it shipped in Philadelphia, and in two days it can be on your porch – I still find it fascinating that it happens.”

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