Drivers' Corner - Truck Talk

The trucking industry seems to continually be plagued by a driver shortage issue. Whether this issue is the result of lack of interest in the profession, an illusion based on high driver turnover, or combination of both, or some other cause can make for an interesting conversation. Certainly nobody in the industry can discount the fact that there is incredibly high driver turnover, often reaching 100% or greater at some carriers. This is a problem by itself that needs addressed at some point, but there are many indications that there is a growing demand for drivers and perhaps some hindrances to people wanting to enter the profession.

  The United Stated Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that “Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 21 percent from 2010 to 2020 faster than the average of all occupations.” The demand for drivers is there. This is also a good sign for the nation’s economy as these are good jobs, good paying jobs, and jobs that are somewhat reliant on a good economic situation.

  The BLS says, “As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, and more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving. Trucks transport most of the freight in the United States, so as households and businesses increase their spending, the trucking industry will grow.” The BLS also notes that trucks are the most efficient modes of product transport for short distances, so other modes of transportation (like rail) won’t derail trucking’s market share.

  However, the BLS is not optimistic that companies will be able to fill the jobs easily – a projected 330,100 new trucking jobs between 2010 and 2020. “Job prospects for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are expected to be favorable. Due to the somewhat difficult lifestyle and time spent away from home, many companies have trouble finding qualified long-haul drivers. Those who have the necessary experience and other qualifications should be able to find jobs,” says the BLS web site.

  Though many in the trucking industry would likely agree with the challenges in recruiting new drivers, there are other challenges as well. Stan Sullivan, Retired President of SEC Training Centers (a truck driving school in Jackson, Mississippi) and an industry veteran with 43 years of service, says, “I started the truck driving school in March of 2002, and at that time there was significant demand for both lead drivers and student graduates.” But, things quickly changed.

  “During the recession drivers were staying with companies, so turnover dropped a little,” says Sullivan. This meant that the recruiting demand for lead drivers softened because of increased retention. However, student drivers faced a different problem. “There was always demand for student drivers but companies had no funding for training, which meant they could not afford to hire student drivers,” says Sullivan.

  Right now, SEC Training Centers and other schools have seen an increased demand for student drivers. This is, in part, due to an uptick in the economy. “There is great demand today for recruiting experienced drivers and recent school graduates, and we expect that to continue,” says Sullivan. “Companies are recruiting at the school and will take all the students we graduate – finding a job is not a problem.”

  In fact, there are some companies that are issuing pre-hire opportunities to students as early as three weeks prior to the student graduating. So, though it may seem like there is a rosy future for new drivers that is not necessarily the case. “Trucking companies are currently not supporting truck driver training schools with financial support through contract training, so many students are forced to find a way to fund the education themselves,” says Sullivan. The challenge there is that federal and state funding is not quite the same as it was in the past, making it more difficult for students to finance their education.

  “If we had funding we would be at maximum capacity with students,” suggests Sullivan. “Students are very interested in CDL training, but without funding it is difficult for them to make it happen.”

  With driver demand on the rise, students interested in the job, and the economy going well, hopefully the industry can find a solution to the driver shortage issue soon……….and address driver retention as well.

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