Driver Demographics and Baby Boomer Retirement: The Ingredients for the Perfect Storm

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released a study regarding truck driver age demographics, and the results, while not surprising, are quite concerning. The facts correlate to an impending storm: we see the clouds and have gathered the requisite supplies, and there’s nothing left to do but wait.

The overall truck driver shortage is apparent to those of us who work in the U.S. trucking industry. Right now, there is an approximate driver shortage of 30,000-35,000 drivers, with an expected 240,000 driver shortage by 2022. Stringent federal regulations, intense demand, an aging driver population, and increased access to academics all align to create issues for motor carriers seeking to recruit drivers. State and federal laws establish numerous driver qualifications, and FMCSA scoring programs create driver safety visibility that wasn’t once available to motor carriers and that serve as effective driver screening tools. Carriers are becoming more and more risk adverse in terms of hiring truck drivers, and will often refuse to hire a driver with a poor record. Further, approximately 40 years ago there were 20,000 trucking companies. Now there are over 500,000. The intense competition has cut into carriers’ profit margins, and many aren’t profitable enough or don’t have the liquidity to increase drivers’ wages to the requisite amount needed to keep them. Finally, more people are forgoing the opportunity to drive a truck in order to pursue secondary education. More and more universities are offering programs online, or with weekend class options, late night courses, and schedules built around working students. Also pertinent is the fact that high school students, across the board, are less interested in attaining vocational education credits, and of those who do, few schools offer any sort of courses in trucking or transportation.(1)

While fewer people are entering or staying in the trucking workforce, even fewer 25-34 year olds are interested in hopping into a big rig. The median driver age is 46.2 years, which is higher than the overall 2013 workforce, at 42.4 years. Private carriers’ median driver age is 52 years old. Over the past twenty or so years, drivers who were 25-34 years old have decreased significantly, nearly 50%, although in the overall U.S. labor force, the 25-34 year old age group has remained constant. Many point blame at the fact that interstate CDL holders must be 21 years or older, and if a carrier finds a qualified 21 year old CDL holder, many insurance companies require drivers to be at least 25 years old. Those interested in driving a truck will often find themselves in a seven year waiting period, which is untenable for a 21 year old.

In 2013, nearly 30% of the country’s truck drivers were 45-54 years of age, with over 56% of drivers being older than 45 years old. A query exists: what will carriers do once these individuals retire in the next fifteen or so years? If the industry isn’t hiring younger folks to replace them, and those drivers holding the cachet of “veteran status” are out of the work force, then carriers are going to be left with some tough issues in terms of hiring and recruitment of drivers. As the economy rebounds, many drivers take up employment in another sector and never return to driving.

Another comment complaint we hear from drivers is lack of respect. Right or wrong, many drivers feel that dispatchers, managers and owners do not value and respect what they do for a living. Young drivers especially complain of lack of respect.

So what are carriers to do? The first step is to try and recruit those who are interested in driving a truck for a living, which may prove to be more difficult to do than once expected. Another step would be to gear marketing to the younger generations, which may require research into the compensation and benefits they expect, as well as their lifestyle needs. They key seems to be lifestyle. While driver pay has not kept pace with other industries, the thought of living in a sleeper and getting home once or twice a month is simply not appealing to the 25 year old driver. Team driving may offer a solution, but higher pay, more home time and respect seem to be the key in hiring and keeping good drivers.

For the full article, please go to ATRI’s website and request a copy.

This blog references the ATRI article, “White Paper: Analysis of Truck Driver Age Demographics Across Two Decades.” Jeffery Short, December 2014.

(1) In 2002, approximately 28.8% of public schools offered a transportation type vocational course, in comparison to business at 96.5%, computer technology at 94.4%, mechanics at 81.9%, and childcare at 68.3%.

This article was written by Lesley Hall, JD, MBA, associate attorney at Roberts Perryman PC.

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