Trucking industry faces driver shortage

DAYTON, Ohio — An aging workforce, tougher regulations and waning interest among younger workers are causing a nationwide shortage of truck drivers.

Despite a need for hundreds of thousands of drivers over the next decade, trucking companies say they are having a tough time attracting applicants.

The need for more drivers is expected to become more significant in the near future, with freight revenues expected to rise as much as 70 percent over the next decade and a current shortage of about 35,000 drivers, according to a 2015 report by HireRight, a national employment services firm.

“It’s not any one part of the industry, it’s the whole trucking industry,” said Tom Hicswa, commercial driver’s license director for Clark State Community College. “It’s a huge problem because if we don’t get people to drive and if the motorcarriers don’t figure out a way to attract people, you’re looking at grocery store shelves and a lot of places will be empty because nobody will be able to deliver it.”

Despite entry-level jobs that can pay from $35,000 to $40,000, attracting students to the industry is difficult, Hicswa said.

“Enrollment has been small,” he said. “We run classes from about nine to 12 people. We just don’t see where there seems to be a big interest in people that want to be truck drivers, mainly because the job takes them away from home.”

Information from a report last month from the American Trucking Associations showed the rate of drivers leaving the industry or changing companies was higher than 90 percent in 2014 for both large and small companies. The ATA uses the turnover rates as one barometer of the driver shortage.

Several factors have made it more difficult to attract drivers in recent years, said Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express in Dayton and co-chairman of Trucking Moves America Forward, an organization established to promote the industry. Jet Express has about 90 drivers and handles as many as 400 truckloads per day throughout the U.S.

As many as 3,500 trucking companies nationally went into bankruptcy during the most recent recession, forcing many drivers out of the field, Burch said. In addition, new regulations have improved safety, but also restricted how long drivers can operate, affecting their potential earnings, he added.

A HireRight report showed the most common reasons for drivers to leave the industry included a desire for higher pay, better benefits and to spend more time at home. It also showed about a quarter of drivers surveyed for its study noted health issues are also a factor.

“Life on the road is an extremely physically demanding occupation,” the report said. “The average life expectancy of a trucker is less than that of the general public. As the workforce continues to age, regulatory agencies will continue to scrutinize the health of drivers.”

Companies are trying a variety of methods to retain and attract employees, including increasing pay, offering signing bonuses and readjusting routes to allow drivers to spend more time at home, Burch said. Pay is important, but often the benefits, time off and even the condition of the trucks are just as crucial to retaining drivers.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is go after the younger driver,” Burch said. “Right now, so many times insurance companies mandate drivers be 21 or 23 years old, and a lot of times we’re finding by the time they reach that age they’ve got some other profession and it’s hard to get them.”

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