Driver Shortage Overblown?

Why Right Now May Be Trucking’s Golden Age

Truck driver shortage overblownIf you’re a small business entrepreneur looking for new roads and ventures to explore, today might be the best time to consider entering the trucking industry.

The nation’s transportation and logistics industry (of which trucking is a major component) has shifted into a higher gear. More and more goods are being moved from manufacturing and distribution centers to far-flung and eager customers, creating greater demand for trucking services.

The only possible flat tire in trucking’s bright future has been ongoing concerns about a “driver shortage.” Many news outlets and industry watchers have predicted turnover and too few drivers to go around, which could bring business to a screeching halt. But recent numbers and analysis suggests that even a driver shortage, if it exists at all, might not even be a speed bump on the road to a promising tomorrow.

Encouraging Numbers

According to recent figures from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry has got the hammer down and is gearing up for continued prosperity in the years to come.

The trucking industry set an all-time record in revenues in 2015, bringing home $726.4 billion. That figure represents 81 percent of all freight industry-related revenue. Meaning, that of every dollar spent moving items from place to place across the U.S. last year; more than four out of every five dollars were used to employ trucking firms. The ATA has also previously foretasted that today’s robust revenues will continue to rise, as much as 29 percent by 2026.

In terms of tonnage, trucks carried 10 billion tons of freight in 2015, or 70 percent of all freight shipped, according to the ATA.

About that Driver Shortage

It’s Truck Driver Appreciation Week (Sep. 11-17). So what better time to talk about a crisis many people expect will throw a wrench into the gears of an industry poised for near perpetual prosperity?

The mass media and the trade press seemingly can’t go a day without lamenting about a driver shortage plaguing the industry. Figures thrown about usually mention trucking companies are facing a shortfall of about 50,000 drivers and that the situation will grow steadily worse, reaching up to 174,000 unfilled vacancies by 2025 as older drivers retire. In addition to shortages, media reports also suggest companies are having a hard time keeping the drivers they already have, compounding the problem.

But is that what’s really happening?

Charter Capital does not make trucking industry forecasts, but we can report and pass on what others are saying in an effort to keep our customers informed about industry trends. And industry watcher Kevin O’Marah is wondering if the driver shortage may be little more than a shortage of imagination – and something that could be easily overcome with technology.

More than 1.6 million people are currently employed as truck drivers. If the industry is 50,000 drivers short, while not a small number, that’s only 3 percent of all truck drivers. O’Marah speculates in Forbes that drone technology, similar to that already undergoing testing in Europe, could propel self-guided trucks along our interstates, overcoming any problems from a driver shortage.

But even if self-driving rigs remain a ways off, the driver shortage itself may be slowly abating. The ATA recently reported that turnover at trucking firms has receded to 83 percent, down from nearly 90 percent in recent years. More drivers are staying at their jobs longer, and fewer are leaving the profession, induced to stick around by higher pay and better working conditions, spurred in part by new federal rest regulations.

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Right in time for Truck Driver Appreciation Week, industry figures show drivers are happier and staying in their jobs longer. Technology is being developed to ease further difficulties from driver shortages. More freight is being moved by truck, and as a result, revenues are at record levels. The forecast for future revenues is as bright as the high beams on a Kenworth. If you’re considering getting into the trucking business either as an entrepreneur or as a driver, now may be the time for you to rev up your engines and move forward.

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