New challenges and familiar issues combine to increase driver shortage, Costello says

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A set of new and old factors combine to create the conditions that have pushed the driver shortage in the trucking industry to 80,000, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

“We have new things that have exacerbated the shortage,” he said on October 25 during a media meeting at the annual conference and exhibition on the management of the federation, explaining that the problems longstanding such as the aging workforce are coming together around new challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specific to the pandemic, he noted that driver training schools said they had trained far fewer new candidates. Add that to a workforce with a high average age – and a job that requires you to be at least 21 to cross state borders – and the situation is ripe for a worsening driver shortage. .

A CDL student driver practices on a road in Maryland. Schools have reported having trained far fewer new applicants since the pandemic. (Peggy Smith / Transportation Topics)

It should be noted that Costello said the shortage actually started to ease before the pandemic. “We have closed part of the gap” in 2019, he said, as new entrants entered the industry as the freight market slowed down. But closures in 2020 and the capacity crunch in 2021 sent the number skyward.

Also contributing, he noted, to around 70,000 drivers who sit on the sidelines and fail to complete readmission protocols after failing drug tests.

“They are not even trying to come back,” he said, adding that the legalization of marijuana in more states “is making the problem worse.”

He also noted that motor carriers sometimes face applicants who may have CDL but have other issues.

“There is also a quality issue here,” Costello said. “They get candidates, it’s just that they can’t hire the vast majority of them. I still have journalists who tell me, “I spoke to a person who has a CDL and who cannot find a job. I say, ask them if they can take a drug test. What is their driving record? These are also important points. So there is also a quality problem here.

There is also a quality issue here. They get candidates, it’s just that they can’t hire the vast majority of them.

American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello

Costello noted that the ATA “100%” supports the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse database, which tracks driver drug test violations.

Efforts to broaden the recruiting base are promising, he said. Federal legislation that would create a training program for interstate driving applicants under the age of 21 would bring into the industry a group that is currently only licensed to drive commercially within a state. Costello noted that many young people have already chosen a career path before the age of 21, so being able to recruit younger candidates for interstate driving could help alleviate the shortage in the longer term. He also noted that recruiting them to drive at a young age doesn’t really help fill the pipeline, as long-distance driving is the skill that needs to be developed and is best learned early on.

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Costello also said hiring more female drivers can help alleviate the shortage. He noted that women make up 47% of the workforce, but make up less than 8% of the country’s truck drivers. He said women make up around 20-25% of the driver workforce with fleets that are doing well in this area, and he said those fleets find their female drivers reliable and conscientious.

Addressing the challenges drivers face on the road can also help attract more drivers to the industry, Costello said. On the one hand, reduce the holding time during deliveries.

“Shippers are absolutely part of this solution,” said Costello. “The trucking industry alone cannot solve this problem. I tell shippers all the time when I talk to them that “You can help yourself”. “

He continued, “If you reduce those wait times to the minimum you need to do, all current and existing drivers could be carrying more freight, which basically means you increase effective capacity without adding a truck to the route. I think this is absolutely part of the solution.

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