The shortage of qualified truck drivers has persisted throughout the Coronavirus pandemic recession and is expected to continue during the economic recovery. The thorny question is: Why does that continue to be the case?
A study recently issued by Coyote Logistics and the labor market analytics firm Emsi offers what the researchers believe represent real data-driven answers to the question of why drivers continue to be so hard to find, and identifies potential areas of improvements that employers can tackle.
One challenge for fleet operators is the competition with warehousing, which has proven to be more attractive than trucking for many of those who come from the same age cohort.
Warehouse workers tend to be younger. Over 62% of warehousing jobs are filled by workers under 45. Interestingly, all warehousing jobs have grown since 2019. And far from posting more than hiring, warehouse occupations tend to see significantly more hires than postings.
For most of the last four years, there have been about two hires for every job posting in warehousing, the researchers say. Trucking jobs, on the other hand, have about six postings for a single hire. The researchers point out that this indicates that warehouse employers are able to fill these jobs via methods such as word-of-mouth referrals and
local job boards, and don’t rely as much on online job posting boards. If it were the case that warehousing jobs are particularly difficult to fill, we would probably see much more of this kind of posting activity, they say.
Trucking and warehousing should, in theory, share a similar demographic pool, according to the researchers. “In other words, both should provide attractive entry-level jobs for the physically capable and non-college educated. But when young people enter transportation and warehousing, they tend to do so on the warehouse side.”
The warehousing comparison does not only identify a more successful competitor for young talent, they argue. “It also suggests trucking’s challenges are not a function of the logistics sector as a whole, but specific to trucking,” the researchers add.
A negative factor in finding drivers is wages that, although they have increased in recent years, are still too low, say the researchers. According to a recent Centerline study, 76% of truckers say that competitive pay is the top factor in their decision on whether to take a job, but at the same time half of them contend that the current wage levels are not sufficiently competitive.
“The industry is dealing with a perception of slow wage growth for a job that was once a proverbial example of Blue Collar work that provided high wages and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle,” the researchers note.
Also causing drivers to avoid the profession is the growing perception that the demanding and sometimes dangerous nature of trucking has become more so in recent years, because of increases in traffic congestion and the number of dangerous and distracted car drivers on the road.
Trucking was the sixth most dangerous occupation group in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although local and delivery drivers get plenty of exercise on the job, obesity and smoking are both twice as prevalent in long-haul truckers as in the general population, and truckers are at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Lack of pathways for career growth is another factor, the researchers say.
“A path in which a difficult life on the road for a limited number of years leads to upward mobility and career growth may present a more attractive option for potential entry level recruits even without drastic wage increases. But at present, truck drivers mostly tend to stay truck drivers.”
A nationwide skills gap presents another growing barrier to entry for would-be truck drivers and has resulted in a smaller pool of people in this country who hold a commercial drivers’ license.
The licensing requirement – more than wages – is perhaps the single biggest difference between
the warehousing and trucking recruitment process, the researchers observe.
“While you may not be able to operate a forklift on your first day, in most cases, you can walk into a warehouse as a laborer with no baseline technical skills and quickly train on the job,” they explain.
Trucking, by contrast, involves a complicated and time-consuming training and licensing process before any work can be done. Since that license is legally mandated, it is nonnegotiable.
“The only question is who will assume its cost – the worker or the firm?” the researchers ask. “Based on job posting and profile data, it appears that right now, the cost is falling on the workers.”