As carriers struggle to hire drivers, they are increasingly turning to new sources of labor.
The numbers are stark. Trucking companies desperately need thousands of drivers – a shortage made worse by strong freight demand, hours-of-service challenges and triple-digit turnover rates that have carriers stealing drivers from each other.
American Trucking Associations studies have shown a need of 80,000 to 100,000 new drivers per year, and an ongoing ATA survey is expected to show an even greater need, says spokesman Mike Russell. Lana Batts, former head of the Truckload Carriers Association, has estimated a need of 195,000 drivers.
The problem is sure to increase as the economy grows and the existing driver population gets older. The average age of owner-operators was 50 in 2001, according to Overdrive’s annual Market Behavior Report. Last year, that age increased to 51.5. The median age of the nation’s work force is creeping up, too, but is 10 or 11 years younger than that of owner-operators.
“The industry is aware that drivers are aging, especially in the household arena,” says Jim Mazzuca, senior vice president of operations for Bekins Van Lines, which has about 2,500 trucks. “We’ve seen multiple generations of haulers come through the system, but that’s not really happening anymore.”
What are carriers doing to address the shortage? They’re recruiting drivers from non-traditional pools of labor: Hispanics, women and immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The share of truckers who are not white males has increased from 26.6 percent in 2001 to nearly 30 percent in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That growing diversity is affecting everything from trucking schools to truck stops to trucker magazines.
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