According American Trucking Associations (ATA), the U.S. currently has a truck driver shortage of roughly 80,000 this year. If current trends persist, ATA says, that number could reach 160,000 within the next ten years.
The causes of this shortage, says Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA, include wider usage of marijuana and a lack of women and younger truck drivers in the workforce.
“The truck driver training schools say the average age is 35 to get trained,” Costello said during ATA’s 2021 Management Conference & Exhibition (MCE) in Nashville. “That pushes our entire age up. For-hire truckload will be the lowest age bracket, but they are still in the high 40s. LTL and private fleets are over 50 years old, which means we have a lot of retirements in this industry. That’s a big problem.”
Furthermore, women, who make up 47% of the overall workforce, do not even comprise 8% of truck drivers in the U.S. While Costello notes that these demographic issues have long been a factor in driver shortages, the current pandemic has further exacerbated these issues. For instance, many truck driving schools and state commercial licensing agencies have not been running at full capacity since the pandemic hit, therefore resulting in fewer trained and licensed truck drivers in the past year.
“Some were down 60%, some were down 40%, but it’s somewhere in that area, and that was a hole we sort of got dug into because we weren’t able to train enough drivers last year,” Costello said. Costello also noted that wider acceptance and legalization of marijuana has contributed to more drivers being taken off the road after testing positive.
While the current congestion in the U.S.’s west coast ports has been attributed to the trucker shortage, trucking veteran Carlos Rameriz claims that a lack of drivers is not the issue. According to Rameriz, who has been a driver for 25 years, most drivers are willing to work but are not able to get work due to back-ups in other parts of the supply chain.
Said Rameriz, “There’s a lot of us that are willing to work. If there was work, we [would] be working 24/7.” He also said that he is getting few loads from the port than ever before, and that drivers are waiting over three hours just to get inside of the port to pick up a container.
“It’s been the worst month I ever had. There’s no work. They’re not releasing anything from [the port],” he said. According to Rameriz, more blame should be put on the longshoremen who offload cargo containers than on the truck drivers, as drivers are at their mercy. One longshoreman said that the Pacific Maritime Association is to blame.
“They’re the ones who are not training: skilled positions,” the longshoreman, who identified himself as Alfred, said. “[That] means crane operators, top handler drivers, trans drivers. They’re the ones who are keeping the ships out there at sea anchored. We have the manpower there, [they] just keep cutting the work.”
“There are truck drivers that come in and are waiting for a chassis and the company does not allow us to give them it,” Alfred said. “If we don’t have the space and we need to get some of this cargo out, why are we holding chassis, and not giving them to the drivers so they could pick up their load to make more space for us. The drivers are there, literally for hours and hours, and sometimes [they] don’t even pick up a load.”