“I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to see the future,” said CPC Logistics vice president of operations and safety, Daniel Most, of the trucker shortage continuing into 2022. “I think there’s still going to be a shortage that’s significant because of the supply and demand. There is still going to be a lot of freight to move next year and the same [amount] or fewer drivers.”
The truck driver shortage is clearly not being left behind in 2021, many experts say, with American Trucking Associations estimating that at least 80,000 drivers are currently needed in the industry. By 2030, that number could reach higher than 160,000, all thanks to a lack of truck driver retention and recruitment, as well as higher demand than ever brought about by the surge in e-commerce following the pandemic.
Now, many carriers are scrambling to find ways to address the situation, such as offering high pay boosts, sign-on bonuses, and added benefits. Because of this, ATA now believes that trucker incomes are rising at a rate of five times more than they have in the past, and longhaul weekly driver earnings have risen by 25%–at least–since early 2019.
Still, these temporary incentives only come as carriers throughout the industry have to work harder than ever to remain competitive in the midst of an incredibly limited pool of truck drivers seeking new jobs.
“I think as long as the freight market continues to do what it’s been doing and from everything that I’ve been hearing from the folks we work with, I don’t expect that to change, at least through the first two quarters [of the year] and possibly the first three quarters,” said Professional Driver Agency’s director of operations, Scott Dismuke.
A shift in truck driver perception and culture may be the key to solving this ongoing issue, he noted.
“I think it’s just going to be more of the same at this point,” Dismuke said. Unless we can start getting more drivers–newer drivers–attracted to the market, we’re still going to be up against the wall.”
In regards to current truckers being removed from the nation’s roadways due to failing alcohol or drug tests, the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse has reported 93,808 such violations since 2020, with a majority of those forgoing any return to the industry once their commercial driver licenses were revoked.
“Only 20,000 of them have done what they needed to do to get their license reinstated,” said CPC Logistics’ Most. “There’s 80,000 right there, and we’ll be on pace to lose another 50,000 to 60,000, potentially, next year. And then there are all the retirements. With the aging driver force, can we get the younger population interested in this type of job?“
Additionally, trucking companies need to begin heavily prioritizing regular communication with drivers while they’re on the road–so that truckers feel connected and supported, especially if any potential obstacles or vehicle troubles occur during a drive, Dismuke added.
“When it comes to the drivers that are in the market right now and new drivers entering the market, I think we’re in for more of the same,” he explained. “Carriers knowing what their drivers are saying right now is probably more important than it’s ever been, because you have to have the ability to identify and intervene in order to retain drivers right now.”
The boom in e-commerce will cause the current demand for freight to remain high, if not grow even more, Dismuke said, and 2022’s shortage severity will depend on just how much worse that demand becomes.
Finally, the ongoing shortage in semiconductor chips has exacerbated the issue as the available supply of equipment has become lower than usual.
“I think, once you get this whole chip thing figured out–a lot of the chips come from Malaysia–I think you could possibly see a pickup in the auto-hauling side of things,” he said. “Then, depending on what happens with the president’s restructure bill, you could see an increase in a lot of the construction…which would be good for flatbed [capability]. I think there are still a couple of issues that we need to wait and see what happens [with] that could actually increase what is already a very heavy freight market.”