According to Transport Topics, the COVID-19 pandemic has momentarily put a pause on the driver shortage within the U.S. trucking industry.
ATA reported that the trucking industry was short an estimated 60,000 drivers prior to the pandemic, as more drivers were retiring than entering the field. The shortage was projected to potentially increase to 105,000 drivers in 2023. Some stressed that the shortage was mainly for long haul truckers, while short-haul drivers remain easier to recruit due to the lower demands of the job.
Now, fallen demand due to the pandemic and resulting economic recession has reduced freight in many sectors of trucking. The demand for certain goods such as groceries and medical supplies has skyrocketed since the outbreak of COVID-19, causing certain sectors of the industry to flourish. However, sectors such as tanker and flatbed operators have experienced substantial reductions in demand, meaning that far fewer truckers are needed in these areas than before the pandemic occurred.
While the driver shortage has ceased for the time being, industry experts stress that it will likely return as the economy begins to recover. According to ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello, “The fundamentals of why we had a driver shortage did not go away. Demographic issues, age, gender, lifestyle issues. But, for the moment, what has changed is the demand side of the equation has fallen significantly.”
Additionally, the nationwide lockdown in response to the virus caused many DMVs and commercial driver training schools to shut down, which has further exacerbated the shortage of new drivers. Said Costello, “The pipeline of incoming drivers — at least momentarily — is much lower. That may not seem like a big deal right now, but we have as an industry always relied on that pipeline of drivers coming into the industry.”
Due to guidelines from the CDC limiting the number of people that can be in one vehicle at a time, less students are able to be instructed by a single teacher. Therefore, it will be even more difficult for the industry to ramp back up to full capacity, said Don Lefeve, CEO of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. Lefeve expects that at least 40% less people will obtain CDLs in 2020 than in the previous year due to the crisis.
As a result of the major halt in incoming certified drivers, the trucking industry may experience an even greater shortage than before as the nation and its economy return to more normal, post-COVID-19. Said Costello, “When the economy gets back, I fully expect the driver shortage to come back, maybe even worse than before.”
We don’t know how many people will take this opportunity for people to leave the industry,” he added.