The ongoing truck driver shortage likely won’t be resolved in the near future.
A report from the American Trucking Associations estimates about 78,000 unfilled positions in the industry as of 2022. That number has dropped somewhat from a record-high of more than 81,000 open positions in 2021. The ATA’s report highlights several factors influencing the shortage. It notes that there isn’t a single, specific cause of the problem.
A lack of truck drivers can substantially influence national economies and the global supply chain. That problem can affect a variety of individual industries as well. Let’s review the basics of the truck driver shortage. Then we’ll highlight some industries where the shortage has caused significant disruption.
What is the Truck Driver Shortage?
The shortage of truck drivers in the US is an ongoing situation where the demand for drivers is higher than the available supply. In other words, there’s more work available for truck drivers than there are drivers to take those jobs.
The truck driver shortage is a complex issue, just like the industry itself. There are many contributing causes. The shortage isn’t only causing concern in the US, either. Upply reports a global driver shortage of about 2.6 million as of 2021.
The lack of drivers impacts some types of trucking more than others. Crucially, it affects long-haul trucking much more significantly than other types of trucking. And the shortage itself likely doesn’t stem from what sounds like the most obvious cause: an overall lack of licensed and available drivers. Let’s take a closer look.
How Did the Truck Driver Shortage Happen?
Planet Money explains the ATA has called attention to the trucking industry labor shortage since the 1980s. There are some enduring causes to consider:
The trucking industry has a high average age for drivers, the ATA explains. That leads to more retirements each year as compared to a younger workforce. Additionally, women represent 47% of the labor force but just 8% of drivers.
Driving a truck can be a lucrative job. However, some entry-level OTR positions offer less-desirable compensation, CNBC explains. Drivers may decide to pursue other lines of work that offer higher pay and better benefits, increasing turnover rates.
Long-haul Working Conditions
Long-haul truck driving means lots of time working and away from home, friends, and family. The nature of the job also makes it difficult to eat healthily and be active. This isn’t as serious of a problem for regional and local drivers, like intermodal drivers, however. These drivers spend much more time at home.
The overall, long-term trend for the US and global economies is growth. Trucking’s central role in the supply chain means more drivers are needed now than in the past.
What are the Effects of the Truck Driver Shortage?
In general, high demand and low supply tend to lead to price increases. That’s true in trucking as well. Costs go up as companies have to pay drivers more. These financial impacts are felt by businesses and individual consumers.
A lack of available drivers can also disrupt the supply chain. Raw materials and finished products can take longer to reach their destinations. That makes certain items temporarily unavailable on store shelves. It can also lead to longer manufacturing timelines, further delaying delivery.
Can the Truck Driver Shortage be Solved?
A study completed for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and cited by Planet Money shares some valuable context related to the truck driver shortage. The study suggests the truck driver shortage is ultimately a retention issue and can be addressed by relatively standard business adjustments.
That “retention vs. shortage” distinction has caused some to say the truck driver shortage is a myth. This viewpoint doesn’t dismiss the real issue of a lack of drivers. Instead, it focuses on how long-haul trucking companies could make the jobs they offer more attractive.
While having some financial impact, better compensation and working conditions for long-haul drivers could help address the shortage. Retention is directly linked to pay, benefits, and the nature of the work performed.
3 Key Industries Affected by the Truck Driver Shortage
Trucks make the final delivery of inventory to supermarkets, department stores, ecommerce businesses, and just about every other type of retailer. With a truck driver shortage, it becomes more difficult to complete all of those deliveries.
With deliveries disrupted, shelves can sit empty. That makes it harder for retailers to market an accurate product assortment. Customers may shop around more to find the products they want or need, too. That can erode customer loyalty and take money away from retailers.
In a key difference from the vast majority of retailers, a minority of manufacturers can take raw material and component deliveries directly from a rail line or through other means. However, plenty of these businesses still depend on truck drivers for some or all freight deliveries. A lack of materials and parts slows down production lines.
When the manufacturer finishes its work, the truck driver shortage can also cause outgoing delays. That leads to a variety of issues, from overfilled warehouses to cash flow problems caused by delayed outgoing shipments and sales.
Importers and exporters often rely on intermodal transportation to efficiently send out and receive shipments to and from international destinations. However, many of these companies also need to incorporate long-haul trucking into their operations.
Even when everything else in the supply chain is going smoothly, a lack of drivers for OTR trucks causes complications. A shipping container can’t be filled and put onto a drayage truck to head to an intermodal port until an OTR truck arrives with the inventory to be exported, for example.
Iraheta Bros.: Your Intermodal Freight and Container Drayage Partner
Drayage is just as crucial to the overall supply chain as OTR and other types of trucking.
At Iraheta Bros., we prioritize our staff. We offer the kind of truck driving jobs that qualified professionals want to stick with in the long term. Even as the rest of the supply chain experiences continuing disruption, you can count on us to bring your valuable cargo to and from the Port of Oakland.