Why Is There a Truck Driver Shortage? Understanding this Key Supply Chain Issue

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There’s no doubt that, in the US and across the globe, truck drivers are in high demand and short supply.

This shortage of drivers has been reported on for decades  — it’s not an emerging problem. However, the supply chain havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic helped shed some more light on it. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) projects a total shortage of about 78,000 drivers through 2022.

What’s causing this truck driver shortage? How long might it last? Most importantly, will it affect your business? Read on to find out.

Why is There a Truck Driver Shortage?

Why is there a truck driver shortage in California and across the country?

There are many contributing factors, and disagreements over some of them among trucking industry stakeholders, when it comes to the truck driver shortage in the US. The basic and direct reason for the shortage is relatively simple, however. Demand exceeds supply. There is more work for truck drivers than there are drivers to do that work.

Is the Truck Driver Shortage Real?

The trucker shortage is a legitimate concern for the industry itself and for the larger national and global supply chains. 

There are disagreements over what’s causing the shortage and even if a “shortage” is the right way to frame the problem. However, there aren’t many people who will argue that there isn’t an issue in terms of truck driver demand vs. truck driver supply. 

One key fact to keep in mind is that the truck driver shortage isn’t evenly spread across the industry. A US Bureau of Labor Statistics report found the shortage is largely found in the long-distance (or over-the-road) truckload motor freight segment of the industry. The ATA agrees that the longer-haul, for-hire truckload market faces the most serious labor shortage issues.  As we review some issues that contribute to the shortage, we may learn why that’s the case.

What is Causing the Trucking Shortage?

While the basic concept of the shortage is simple, the issue becomes much more complex when considering specific causes. The ATA’s position is the truck driver shortage is persistent and caused by many factors, including:

  • High average age of drivers, leading to higher turnover rates due to retirements
  • Lack of full labor utilization, with women only accounting for 8% of all drivers
  • Restrictions (age, driving history, etc.) that can prevent some individuals from joining the industry
  • Quality of life and working conditions issues, including significant time spent away from home and difficulty leading a healthy lifestyle overall

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, shared a different view of the shortage with NPR. He pointed out that the retention of drivers, especially in the long-haul market, is the true issue. NPR noted that ATA data indicates extremely high turnover in that labor market. Specifically, a yearly turnover rate of above 90% that has persisted for decades.

Among local (including drayage truck drivers), regional, and long-haul drivers, the long-haul segment faces the most issues in terms of quality of life. Their work requires them to spend the most amount of time away from home. 

That means less time with friends and family, as well as more difficulty finding time for things like eating healthy foods and exercising. Combined with pay and benefits issues at the entry level for drivers, it’s easy to see the logic behind this view.

How a Truck Driver Shortage Could Affect Your Business

How Long Could the Truck Driver Shortage Last?

The ATA projects a shortage of drivers for the foreseeable future, increasing through 2030. Trucking companies are making adjustments, however. That includes increasing pay and offering better benefits. Lobbying efforts to expand the pool of potential drivers are also active, such as allowing those ages 18-20 to drive tractor-trailers across state lines.

How Can my Business Work Around the Truck Driver Shortage?

For businesses that depend on trucking to carry goods over longer distances, there isn’t a simple, one-step answer to this question. However, your business can:

  • Prioritize relationships with communicative and proactive partners. Find motor carriers and freight brokers that keep your business up to date, both when things are going as expected and when delays and other issues arise.
  • Build connections with multiple partners. Have more than one option available if your preferred broker or carrier can’t offer a timeline that works for your business.
  • Focus attention where it’s needed. Shortages of regional and local drivers aren’t nearly as pronounced as the lack of long-haul drivers. Put more attention toward freight that makes long journeys.

At Iraheta Bros., we’re proud to provide consistent and dependable drayage service at the Port of Oakland, along with warehousing, secure storage of food-grade containers, and more. Even in the face of a truck driver shortage, you can count on us to get the job done.

Work with Iraheta Bros – Request a Quote Today!

Why Is There a Truck Driver Shortage? Understanding this Key Supply Chain Issue

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