NASHVILLE, TN. The demand for truck drivers in only going to increase over the next decade, according to presentations here at the Omnitracs Outlook 2018 user conference, but the relative high age of the current driver workforce couple with the financial impact of issues such as the lack of truck parking will make finding and keeping drivers that much tougher.
According to Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which the outlook for the industry is bright, trucking will need about 900,000 new drivers over the next decade or so largely as replacements for an expected wave of retirements. According to ATA’s research, 49% of those 900,000 will be needed to cover driver retirements, with only 28% required to handle ongoing freight growth. The reason for that “retirement spike” is that the average age of a U.S. truck driver now hovers around 50, compared to 42 for the average U.S. worker, Costello noted.
He added that the industry was also short about 51,000 drivers last year, based on freight demand, which is expected to jump to 174,000 by 2026 if the trendlines don’t change. “That does not sound like a lot when you compare that to the often-cited 3.1 million truck drive population figure,” Costello said. “But when you whittle it down, 1.7 million of them are tractor-trailer drivers and 500,000 of those are in that long-haul irregular route TL segment, which is where most of the shortage is. And being short 51,000 drivers in a population of 500,000 is a bigger deal.”
He noted, too, that the TL segment has the highest rates of driver turnover – 86% for 2017 as a whole, though it spiked to 95% in the third quarter last year. That’s compared to 8% turnover in the LTL sector. “LTL carriers have far less turnover because their drivers are home more often and make more money,” Costello said.
Overall, when turnover hits 90%, that represents a roughly $1 billion annual cost to motor carriers, he added.
Costello also pointed out that rising pay in the TL sector – it is now averaging $55,000 to $60,000 a year, according to ATA’s data – isn’t enough to match pay in certain “specialty segments” like oilfield operations, which is seeing renewed demand. “Some oilfield drivers can make $100,000 and they don’t have to drive that much,” he explained.
Other issues, notably the lack of truck parking, are beginning to affect drivers more. Dan Murray, vice president of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), said many drivers are now sacrificing nearly an hour’s worth of drive time per day – 56 minutes on average – in order to secure a parking space, which represents and “opportunity cost” of some $4,600 per year.
“Our friends in government have no clue as to how this issue [lack of parking] can literally absorb up to 10% of a driver’s annual compensation,” he said. “It shows what we need to focus on.”