young truck driver sitting on trailer

Driving a truck is not considered a glamorous job by many, one that is hardly mentioned by high-school counselors and consequently, the industry’s average age is rising.

According to the Department of Labor, the average worker in the U.S. is 42 years old, the average truck driver (combination of local and long distance) is 46 years old.

The ATA (American Trucking Association) claims in its 2017 report, the average OTR (Over-The-Road) truck driver age is 49.

Long days away from home are not a great sales point to job seekers who have grown up now to believe that technology brings job time flexibility.

Large trucking firms are trying to offer a better lifestyle with more days off between multi-day runs, but the job is still hard on family life.

And with women now a larger part of the labor force, the participation of women in the trucking industry has not increased, thereby adding further to the labor shortage among drivers.

“Additionally, the industry has historically struggled to attract all segments of the population as just 6% of truck drivers in 2016 were women. This percentage hasn’t changed much historically, ranging from 4.5% to 6% over the last 15 years. In 2016, 38.7% of drivers were minorities, which has jumped 12 percentage points from 26.6% in 2001.”

Report: Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2017 – ATA

Today’s trucks are more advanced than ever, offering more driving and resting comfort. The availability of high-speed cellular technology allows drivers to better stay in touch with friends and family using Skype, Facebook, and other social media.

But fundamentally, the job is the same for OTR (Over-The-Road) truckers. Drive long distances to deliver trailers full of goods between manufacturers, warehouses, distribution centers, and retailers.

Between a growing population, more online orders which have to be shipped on trucking routes, and an aging workforce, the ATA estimates there is a shortage of about 50,000 truck drivers today in the U.S.

And the ATA also estimates the industry will need 898,000 drivers over the next decade to keep up with growth and demand.

Those are staggering numbers for an industry that is vital to eCommerce!

The shortage didn’t come overnight. Just a decade ago there was already a shortage around 20,000 truck drivers, so with more online commerce and more goods that need to be transported by trucks, the shortage is growing at an alarming rate.

Is There a Fix?

Recently, the ‘Women in Trucking” organization sponsored a ridealong from Marinette to Green Bay to promote the opportunity for women in trucking.

“They can make the same amount of money as a man because the steering wheel doesn’t have any idea who’s holding it, so it doesn’t matter your age or your ethnicity or your race or whatever, so we’re really pointing out the fact that there’s a lot of jobs right now in the trucking industry and we need to fill those seats, so women can do it.”

Ellen Voie, President and CEO of Women in Trucking

Congress is considering new legislation proposed by Representative Duncan Hunter, R-Calif, called the ‘DRIVE-Safe Act’ (Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act).

This piece of legislation could make OTR trucking jobs a conversation at the high school level as today 18-year olds with a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) cannot cross state lines.

Federal law requires CDL holders must be 21 before they can drive over state lines and the hope is that by reducing the minimum age, more young adults will consider OTR trucking as a profession out of High School.

As it stands now, the OTR industry has a distinct disadvantage over other industries to recruit new employees at a time when most graduates not going to college are entering the workforce full time.

READ MORE: New Chicago-Area DHL Innovation Center to Promote Future of Logistics

Technology to The Rescue?

Specifically, self-driving trucks could make a huge dent in the driver shortage if they are ready for primetime and trucking firms are willing to roll out expanded tests.

In March of this year, in Arizona, Uber Freight started to operate on select highway routes with a fleet of self-driving trucks that also included a driver as a backup.

But the very public fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber car in Arizona appears to have also derailed the trucking testing program now.

While there is very reasonable argument that advancing self-driving technology will require the public must accept failures that include fatalities, there is also a very real ethical issue that has not been truly solved.

For self-driving technology to ever get to a point where it could properly interact with non-autonomous drivers, the technology will have to be programmed to deal with the “ethical dilemma.”

For example, an autonomous vehicle going down a busy city road. A kid jumps out into the street and there is no time for the vehicle to brake safely.

Does the autonomous vehicle hit and probably kill the child or does it try an evasive maneuver that may put its passengers or other pedestrians at risk of serious injury or death?

How willing are trucking companies to enter into this unknown indirectly becoming part of dealing with ethical dilemmas in self-driving technology?

Certainly Tesla, Uber, and other technology-first companies are willing to engage in tests, but what about large-scale roll-out to fully accept the liability of an autonomous fleet?

READ MORE: FedEx Announced They Have Reserved 20 Tesla Semi Trucks

It seems far-fetched right not that trucking companies would put their faith into that kind of tech unless they feel secure the risk is truly at the same level as a human error.

Without a large-scale test involving OTR routes, it doesn’t seem probable an existing trucking firm is willing to dive into the deep end of the pool.

“Driverless trucks are decades away… That is not the solution.”

Bob Costello, Chief Economist at ATA to CNBC

Shortage = Increased Shipping Costs

For U.S. sellers and consumers, the trucker labor shortage is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Advances in technology to include autonomous trucks or heavy lift drones or a combination of technologies to improve automation in the long haul delivery of goods will become an increasingly bigger part of the solution.

READ MORE: Boeing Builds a Giant Heavy-Lifter Drone to Change The Future of Drone Delivery

But just like it had been speculated decades ago that by now commercial aviation would be mostly pilotless, what is possible and what is likely are usually on two different paths.

Autonomous trucks may find large-scale adoption first in China, India, or some European countries where liability issues are not as much of a factor as in the U.S.

The best hope is that more people, especially young people, look at trucking as a long-term profession. While the median salary for a truck driver is around $40,000, some companies are offering double that to attract drivers.

These costs are starting to fall on sellers and consumers and if the economy stays strong and the online retail segment continues to grow at rapid pace, trucking firms, including parcel carriers like UPS and FedEx, may raise rates above average end-of-year adjustments to make up for rising labor costs.

READ MORE: UPS to Hike Oversize Package Fees – Adds New Audit Fee

The only real defense a small business seller has against rising logistics costs are to evaluate product packaging and ensure the packaging is the most economical shipping weight and size while still protecting the product.

Have you noticed the impact of the labor shortage in trucking on your logistics prices? Head over to our Facebook Discussion Group or use the comments section below.

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