Front Line: Solutions Needed for Truck Driver Shortage
The supply chain continues to be negatively affected by a shortage of long-haul truckers, in particular, but recruiting more military veterans and women may be part of the solution.
Increasing pay and other incentives have helped the industry attract new drivers, says Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the book The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, but there are not enough new drivers entering the industry each year to make a significant difference in the shortage — especially in the long-haul, for-hire truckload sector, the part of the industry most acutely impacted by the shortage.
The average trucking company has a one-year turnover rate of roughly 95 percent, according to Trucking Info.com. Why the high turnover? Industry observers say the primary reason is poor work-ing conditions that make long-haul trucking an undesirable profession.
One of the major root causes of those problems was the deregulation of the industry in the 1980s, which, over time, transformed trucking from a steady, well-paid profession to poorly-paying gig work with long hours, according to Viscelli. Today’s drivers earn about 40 percent less than they did in the late 1970s, Viscelli says, but are twice as productive as they were then.
The average trucking company has a one-year turnover rate of roughly 95 percent, according to Trucking Info.com. Now that truck drivers are gig workers, the inefficiencies of the supply chain are making the jobs worse and worse. Viscelli says the solution to the retention problem “has been known for a while — higher pay, and pay for all the work,” which includes the time drivers spend waiting for their cargo to be loaded, and overtime work caused by that delay. By contract, drivers for some employers are sup-posed to get “extra” pay for that time, “but they have to ask for it,” Viscelli told Area Development. “That model of putting inefficiency on drivers and having the cost come out of their paycheck is a fun-damental problem,” he explains. However, one of the models that has emerged is having a local driver who is being paid hourly assemble loads, so they are ready to go, which “dramatically improves the experience” for long-haul drivers.
In 2023, Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) reintroduced their bipartisan Strengthening Supply Chains Through Truck Driver Incentives Act, which would provide a short-term, fast, and straightforward incentive to attract and retain new drivers. The Gallagher-Spanberger bill would create a two-year refundable tax credit of up to $7,500 for truck drivers holding a valid Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL) who drive at least 1,900 hours in the year. It would also establish new incentives for Americans to enter registered trucking apprenticeships.
To recruit more long-haul drivers, there are at least two under-utilized categories of workers — women and military veterans, according to experts. To recruit more long-haul drivers, there are at least two under-utilized categories of workers — women and military veterans, according to experts.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to address supply chain problems includes “focused” out-reach and recruitment of veterans, with the help of the various service branches. There are an esti-mated 70,000 vets who are “likely” to have certified trucking experience within the last five years, according to the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service. The plan also in-cludes reducing barriers to drivers getting commercial driving licenses and encouraging more Regis-tered Apprenticeships.
Women drivers are grossly under-represented in the trucking industry, according to government statistics, accounting for only 4.8 percent of the 1.37 million drivers in the U.S., as of 2021. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are major causes, according to industry experts. Trucking com-panies often refuse to hire women if they do not have women available to train them. Because there are few female trainers to meet the need, same-sex training policies are common across the industry, truckers say, even though a federal judge ruled in 2014 that it was unlawful for a trucking company to require that female job candidates be paired only with female trainers.
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