Two ongoing problems are adding up to create one major issue around the number of drivers in the trucking industry.
First, the age of the current drivers means that several of them are coming close to retirement and there is not enough interest in the younger generation to fill these jobs.
One of the issues around trying to hire young or new truckers is the image which trucking is associated with, an instructor at Riverland Community and Technical College, Jonathan Rymer, noted.
“Typically, people don’t think of someone like myself. I’ve been doing it 25 years. I’ve been very successful. I’m financially sound, and it’s because of trucking. I think that’s not the story you get,” he said.
Instead, truck drivers are perceived to be large, lazy old men which one assumes no new-truck driver would describe themselves as.
Trucker Daniel Cercel also noted that the skillset required for truckers is unique to its field of work.
“You’ve got to be patient. There’s a lot of patience involved where you get in traffic jams and everything, and if you get sleepy at the wheel often, it’s probably not for you.”
To add, the rates at which truck drivers are paid has resulted in several of them only needing to work part-time hours to come home with a salary which they are content with, David Parker, chief executive of Covenant Logistics, has found.
“We’re finding out that to get a driver, let’s say the numbers are $85,000 per year. But a lot of these drivers are happy at $70,000. Now they’re not coming to work for me unless it’s in the $80,000s, because they’re happy [working part time] and making $70,000,” he commented.
As a result, these companies may be shooting themselves in the foot by offering high salaries to encourage increased driver numbers.
The second issue causing a crisis in driver number is the large increase in the size of the freight industry over the last year in lockdown. This increase has created a need for a greater number of truck drivers on the roads to keep up with this growth.
Parker said that he is seeing a 7 to 8% growth in the size of the market which he doesn’t see changing any time soon. As a result, lack of drivers is causing delays in fuel delivery across the country, having a knock-on effect to other industries which rely on the commodity.
Can We Get Back On The Road?
In a bid to prevent fuel shortages and delays in freight delivery, companies are responding by raising pay and improving benefit programmes to attract drivers. One company has claimed to be offering $14,000 every week for drivers to encourage more of them onto the road. Although a higher salary would appear to entice drivers onto the road, this may only enable more drivers to work part-time on the roads, rather than adding more drivers onto the road, as Mr Parker discovered for himself.
The industry is also transitioning to a high-tech future with heavy duty zero-emission trucks soon to be available, as well as the possibility of autonomous trucks sidestepping the issue of a drivers’ shortage completely.