An again workforce, tougher regulations and waning interest among younger workers are causing a nationwide shortage of truck drivers that is impacting local companies.
Despite a need for hundreds of thousands of drivers over the next decade, local companies said they are having a tough time attracting replacements for a rapidly aging workforce.
“It’s not any one part of the industry, it’s the whole trucking industry,” said Tom Hicswa, Commercial Driver’s License Director for Clark State Community College. “It’s a huge problem because if we don’t get people to drive and if the motorcarriers don’t figure out a way to attract people, you’re looking at grocery store shelves and a lot of places will be empty because nobody will be able to deliver it.”
Clark State offers a five-week course that allows students to earn their CDL. Despite entry-level jobs in the area that can pay between $35,000 to $40,000, attracting students to the industry is difficult, Hicswa said.
“Enrollment has been small,” he said. “We run classes from about nine to 12 people. We just don’t see where there seems to be a big interest in people that want to be truck drivers, mainly because the job takes them away from home.”
Information from a report last month from the American Trucking Associations showed turnover — the rate of drivers leaving the industry or changing companies— was higher than 90 percent in 2014 for both large and small companies. The ATA uses the turnover rates as one barometer of the driver shortage.
“These figures show us that the driver shortage — which we now estimate to be between 35,000 to 40,000 drivers — is getting more pervasive in the truckload sector,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist, in the release. “Due to growing freight volumes, regulatory pressures and normal attrition, we expect the problem to get worse in the near term as the industry works to find solutions to the shortage.”
Several factors have made it more difficult to attract drivers in recent years, said Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express in Dayton and co-chairman of Trucking Moves America Forward, an organization established to promote the industry. Jet Express has about 90 drivers and handles as many as 400 truckloads per day throughout the U.S.
As many as 3,500 trucking companies nationally went into bankruptcy during the recent recession, forcing many drivers out of the field, Burch said. In addition, the industry has also seen new regulations that have improved safety, but also restricted how long drivers can operate, impacting their potential earnings, he added.
The HireRight report showed the most common reasons for drivers to leave the industry included a desire for higher pay, better benefits and to spend more time at home. It also showed about a quarter of drivers surveyed for its study noted health issues are also a factor.
“Life on the road is an extremely physically demanding occupation,” the report showed. “The average life expectancy of a trucker is less than that of the general public. As the workforce continues to age, regulatory agencies will continue to scrutinize the health of drivers.”
Companies are trying a variety of methods to retain and attract employees, including increasing pay, offering signing bonuses and readjusting routes to allow drivers to spend more time at home, Burch said. Pay is important, but often the benefits, time off and even the condition of the trucks are just as crucial to retaining drivers.
Chad Graves, of Urbana, worked in manufacturing as a temporary worker for 15 years but grew tired of the instability. He enrolled at Clark State’s driving school and said he already has a job lined up.
“You look at any other job field, it’s sort of hard to find that much demand,” Graves said.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is go after the younger driver,” Burch said. “Right now, so many times insurance companies mandate drivers be 21 or 23 years old, and a lot of times we’re finding by the time they reach that age they’ve got some other profession and it’s hard to get them.”
WCA Logistics, based in Urbana, serves as an intermediary between trucking companies and firms looking to ship and receive products. The firm works to negotiate with trucking companies to find ways to manage and reduce freight costs, said William Carter, the company’s president and CEO.
That job is becoming increasingly difficult as carriers struggle to find a lack of qualified drivers, Carter said.
Due to the shortage, drivers are beginning to dictate better terms at many companies, driving up the cost of shipping products, he added.
“It is without a doubt an ongoing and frustrating job in this day and age to negotiate what we feel is a cost-effective rate for our clients through a carrier of choice,” Carter said.
Younger truck drivers are just as dedicated to the career as older drivers, Carter said, but they want to be home more often. To keep them in the field, some companies that ship freight overnight are beginning to look at routes that relay shipments to other drivers along the way. The shorter routes allow drivers to be home most nights.
Woodruff Enterprises in Springfield isn’t currently looking for drivers, but may do so in the future because business has picked up, said Carey Culley, chief operating officer for the trucking company. Woodruff is able to offer routes that allow drivers to stay home most nights. The firm delivers shipments for local food manufacturers such as Gordon Foods and Dole.
One challenge smaller companies face is that insurance firms often require drivers for smaller companies to have at least one or two years experience. Large trucking firms often don’t have that requirement, and can hire drivers out of schools like Clark State’s.
But competition for qualified drivers is high. Woodruff typically recruits drivers through word-of-mouth, Culley said.
The demand for drivers is likely to remain a problem unless the industry can find creative ways to recruit a younger workforce, Burch said.
“This is one occupation you can’t outsource,” Burch said.