The number of American truck drivers on the road has been declining for the past 15 years. At the same time, their average age has continued to rise, so the labor shortage is likely to get worse. To deal with the conundrum, the trucking industry is developing strategies to cope with shipping delays caused by an increasingly critical U.S. truck driver shortage.
A variety of factors is contributing to the resulting frustration of retailers, but the chief forces driving the shortage are demographics, economic realities and customers’ shifting expectations.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a truck driver is 55. With a smaller cohort of drivers to replace the older ones expected to retire in the coming years, the U.S. truck driver shortage is expected to become more acute. The shortage is felt most keenly in the long-haul sector, presenting great challenges for retailers who must ship products across long distances.
Rise of eCommerce
Besides the unfavorable demographic situation, another underlying cause of the U.S. truck driver shortage is the rise of eCommerce. Customers no longer just want fast shipping, they demand it. Extreme convenience has become “table stakes” in the retail industry for e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar stores alike.
At the same time the truck driver shortage continues to worsen, with only one truck available for every 12 loads that have to be shipped, customers are becoming increasingly accustomed to lightning-fast free shipping and the ability to order products from conventional retailers such as Walmart and have them shipped directly to their local stores for pick-up or to their homes.
A Way Forward
Import and export traffic contribute to an already-strained situation, and companies must strive to become a “shipper of choice” in a trucker’s market. What steps can be taken to alleviate the U.S. truck driver shortage?
- Routing and scheduling advances. Using data gleaned from real-time cloud-based inventory-management systems can help companies forecast demand and offer greater lead times. Advance notice and predictable freight not only decrease stress for carriers, it saves money by avoiding surcharges and higher rates.
- Autonomous vehicles. Driverless trucks and drones show promise as part of the solution to the driver shortage. While the technology’s implementation is hampered by legal concerns, it could provide an efficient, cost-effective means of delivering goods.
- Driver services. It’s becoming increasingly important for companies to offer services that show respect for drivers’ time. The term “shipper of choice” recognizes the fact that not just carriers, but drivers, have a choice today. By offering extended hours, advance scheduling and preloading, shippers can demonstrate respect for drivers, in turn fostering a positive relationship and ultimately improving the bottom line.
- Rising wages. Another important way to show respect for drivers and encourage new ones to enter the field is to pay them a reasonable wage. Pay for truck drivers in the United States historically has stagnated, contributing to the shortage. Although the pay is inching upwards, shippers must recognize that providing adequate remuneration to drivers is a key component in eliminating the labor shortage.
The U.S. truck driver shortage is likely to continue creating logistics headaches for retailers and increasing the drivers’ bargaining power. Retailers must redefine their relationships with drivers in the new “trucker’s market.”
Increasing pay for truck drivers is one component of the solution to the truck driver shortage. Other solutions include providing “driver services” that minimize frustration for drivers and make them feel valued and respected. Although the problem of the truck driver shortage requires a multi-faceted approach, it will become increasingly necessary to make concerted efforts to address it.