Skip to comments.America's truck driver shortage
Posted on 08/18/2013 7:21:43 PM PDT by Fiji Hill
America's Truck Driver ShortageBy Kate O'Connell
The Innovation Trail's Kate O'Connell talks to truckers, industry reps, and analysts about America's trucker shortage.
Americas trucking industrys been experiencing a chronic shortage of drivers for at least 20 years. Conservative estimates put the number of vacancies upward of 20,000, and some say it goes into the hundreds of thousands.
But, there are mixed views on the causes and solutions for this challenge to the industry.
Kevin Dugan has a college degree in heating and air conditioning, but after graduating he had a similar experience to many young grads. Employers were reluctant to hire him because of a lack of experience.
And thats why Dugans out early each Saturday morning, taking a truck for a spin.
Nobody wanted to give me a job, nobody really wanted to give me an interview. And that carried on for just so long, and I said ok, I need to find something else if Im ever going anywhere with this, he says.
I heard there was an employment vacuum with transportation so I decided to go ahead and investigate that. So one thing led to another and here I am.
Dugans lead turned out to be on the money. He had several job offers before hed even completed his training, as did most of his classmates.
Hes one of a handful of new truck drivers entering the industry via the Professional Driver Institute (PDI) in western New York.
Paul Doyle, president of PDI, says his school trains up to 35 students per month. And, they could triple class sizes and still not meet the demand, he says
People dont realize how big of an industry this is. Its the second largest employer next to healthcare. Theres something like 350 thousand motor carriers in the US. Its usually a well-kept secret as far as the opportunities that are out there.
As far as Doyles concerned, the shortage is a hangover from when trucking licenses became federally regulated in the early 90s.
He says that change eliminated around 40 percent of drivers from the industry because it revealed an astonishing lack of enforcement of driving violations and restrictions.
The commercial license used to be regulated for each state. And one of the problems that developed was, drivers could what they call spread out moving violations over states. They could actually have 15-20 DWIs, they could have 50-60 moving violations. But they would spread them out over different states, so they would still be legal in any particular state.
Doyle says the industry never really recovered, and theyre now facing a crisis as baby boomers begin to retire. He says companies also struggle with outdated perceptions of the industry.
That is a very real issue. I think the trucking industry itself is trying to package itself to try to appeal to a more diversified market, including women, minorities maybe people that typically, in the past, would not have considered it. They try to make it more and more driver-friendly, more technologically advanced, more user-friendly.
A different take
Michale Belzer, associate professor of industrial relations and economics at Wayne State University, sees the problem differently.
For him, the driver shortage dates back to the decade before the license system went federal.
I have been hearing about this driver shortage since the late 1980s, and there have been lots of complaints about that. You never heard about that before deregulation 30-35 years ago, there was no problem. But when the job became so highly competitive and highly pressured, and the compensation went down by about a third or more, more like even a half, then it became a much less attractive job.
And Belzer says its not outdated views of the industry thats causing the shortage.
The problem is that the job is too demanding and the pay is not good enough, and even if you train people for this job, they dont stay once they realize how difficult the job is.
It depends on who you talk to as to what view you get on this issue. If you talk to people in the trucking industry youll hear, unsurprisingly, that over-regulation is to blame.
David Hellers an industry representative and Rick Etinger, a recruiter for trucking company Warner Enterprises. Both say tighter regulation of working hours is alienating drivers.
Drivers are basically looking at regulations and saying theres just too much and theyre leaving the industry. Effectively what its creating is a driver shortage, says Heller.
Youre allowed to drive an 11 hour day, but after youve been on the clock for eight hours you must take a half hour break mandatory by federal law. So what thats doing is cutting into the drivers hours of being able to work and or drive, says Etinger.
It could be crippling for the industry, it could be crippling for the consumer because the less drivers, the less stuffs going to get delivered. And who really takes the bulk of all that is consumers. You would end up having higher fuel costs because fuel trucks have to make deliveries, theres a lot of ramifications I believe if this shortage is not taken care of.
The dollars and cents of it all
Theres no easy answer, but a lot of it comes down to money. Back at Wayne State, Michael Belzer says theres not enough going into drivers pockets to attract people.
They could work two jobs in fast food full time and make better money and be home every day than what theyre doing now. So the job, the current status of the trucking industry job, does not fit with the rest of the U.S. labor market.
The industry is also arguing for more federal dollars to go towards driver education, rather than enforcing regulations.
For wanna-be drivers, the dollars and cents of it all are a factor too.
Despite the number of local offers Kevin Dugan got, he decided to shop around. And, he ended up offering to relocate for a company that had a higher pay grade and a more attractive career track.
Someone from Schneider pulled up one day while I was out there and I decided to go ahead and ask her how it was because I was a little dissatisfied with the prospects I had right there. She had just about all the answers I was looking for; decent pay, expansion into tank truck work, nice-ish trucks, they care about safety, they care about their drivers.
Dugan admits the lifestyle isnt for everyone, but hes looking forward to hitting the open road.
Hes happy with the long hauls, traveling for about a week before returning for the weekends.
It means I never have a lack of things to do when I get back on the weekends, and hey, youre literally getting to see the entire north east, can you really put a price on that?
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How much does it pay?
My son tried it. All the big companies wanted were drivers who leased their truck. If you were not willing to lease, you were paid next to nothing, regulated out the wazoo, treated like dog dung and given loads where your 11 hour day included 4 stops...when you were being paid by the mile.
He gave it up and is now bringing in more money getting $9/hour as a security guard. And they wonder why they cannot fill the ‘demand’?
You want to be paid?
The big guys have driven all the independents out.
Oil field trucking companies are paying $3,000 signing bonuses right now.
Pretty much the same story I hear every day.
In Obama’s world, there isn’t/won’t be adequate salary for truck drivers or anyone else.
Getting paid by the mile is one of the most problematic aspects of a driving career. Under this system, the truck driver ends up bearing the financial burden as well as the heavy personal toll of all the inefficiencies in the motor freight transportation system -- from congestion to Federal hours-of-service rules to inefficient terminal operations where the customer doesn't load or unload the truck very efficiently (and the driver is "on the clock" but isn't getting paid because the truck isn't moving).
I hate to say this, but it's likely that the only way to fix the system is to have the Teamsters make some serious inroads into the trucking industry.
Teamster’s? Gotta be kidding? Right? They are part of the problem.
Who else but the Teamsters has been standing up to prevent the implementation of that provision of NAFTA that will allow Mexican trucking firms to do business in the U.S.?
They’ll “fix” the problem by having Mexican drivers work US roads under NAFTA.
Little different than how they “fixed” the engineering shortage by importing H-1Bs from India and China.
Trucker: Very long hours, very low pay. For the hours a person could get two jobs and do just as well.
5 dollar diesel and all the regulatory BS hasn’t helped, either
Trucking has not been the same since deregulation.
Raise wages and you won’t have a shortage of truckers. This is basic market economics for conservatives who actually care about such a thing. Or is this another job ‘Americans won’t do’ ?
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