ATA Releases Driver Shortage Analysis

Study shows a slight improvement in 2019 driver shortage projections but not necessarily “for the right reasons”
By Al Muskewitz
Wright Media Editor-in-Chief
Bob Costello has a warning that goes beyond putting drivers in the seat.
Costello, the chief economist of the American Trucking Associations, spoke with reporters via a conference call Wednesday following the release of ATA’s 2019 driver shortage analysis.
The report indicated a trend towards a reduction in the driver shortage and turnover over 2018, but not necessarily “for the right reasons” and may only be a minor and temporary reprieve on the biggest source of pressure in the industry.
In 2018 the shortage of truck drivers industry-wide was 60,800, which is a record high and up more than 10,000 from the prior year, the report showed. In 2019, the shortage of OTR for-hire truckload drivers – an industry subset currently numbering between 500,000 and 600,000 – is projected to drop to 59,000 due in part to soft freight, but the trend is expected to rise again in the long term. If the current trend holds, the shortage could swell to more than 160,000 by 2028.
“This is trend line forecast if things do not change,” Costello said. “It serves as a warning to entire supply chain. I don’t believe we will get there … (but) at some point if we continue down that line and we get closer and closer to that 160,000 short it will be a real problem for the industry, for the supply chain and the broader economy.
“The industry is growing the driving population. It is just not growing fast enough.”

Over the next decade the industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers, the report said, or an average of 110,000 per year. More than half of the new driver hires (54 percent) will be to offset retiring drivers, 25 percent will be for industry growth.
If the trend stays on course, there will likely be severe supply chain disruptions resulting in significant shipping delays, higher inventory carrying costs and perhaps shortages at stores. Trucks account for 71.4 percent of all tonnage moved in the country.
The causes for the shortage well-documented: An older workforce where the average for-hire truckload driver age is 46, four years higher than the average age of all workers (it’s over 50 in private and LTL fleets), and the average age of new drivers is 35; the percentage of women drivers in the industry is 6.6 percent and hasn’t risen much in more than 20 years; life on the road is difficult, especially for the older new drivers already of age to have an established family; there are more job alternatives; and regulations have reduced productivity.
The report wasn’t short of solutions. Increase pay and better promote driver benefits packages; provide more home time where possible; lower the driver age; improve driver image campaigns; provide better treatment and reduce wait times at shippers and receivers. 
(A separate Q2 2019 recruiting and retention survey conducted by DriverIQ also released Wednesday found for the first time since Q4 2017 more recruiters (46 percent) expect driver turnover to remain about the same and for the first time an overwhelming majority of recruiters (74 percent) expect future driver compensation is going to remain the same.)
“This is a hard job,” Costello said, “but it’s one you can support a family on good benefits.
“We definitely attracted more people to this industry last year; the word got out and more people realized there was this occupation out there that was in high demand, had good wages, good benefits and it did help get some folks into the industry, so much so that if you were to compare our projection this time versus last year’s report you would notice we’re not quite as high on the back end of how large the driver shortage will be. It’s still a big problem but we did attract some new people, it’s just not enough.”

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