The supply chain disruption of the COVID years is easing, but there could be another problem ahead: high turnover in the trucking trade. The industry currently has an 80,000-person deficit, according to the American Trucking Associations.
There are enough qualified drivers — 10 million Americans hold licenses for the 3.7 million commercial trucks on the road — but many have left the profession. That’s concerning because truck drivers move about 70% of freight by weight, quite literally steering the national economy.
Automation isn’t the problem (yet)
While whispers of self-driving trucks have abounded for years, technology in its current state can’t fully replace every task a truck driver does, such as loading/unloading and customer relations on the ground. The present burnout rate has more to do with the strain of the job, which includes loneliness, boredom, lack of exercise, and stress.
Long-haul trucking is a hard life. A previous generation of drivers endured it, though, so why not this one?
Longer hours for lower pay
Trucking used to be a tightly regulated, middle-income profession, which is largely no longer the case; drivers’ inflation-adjusted wages have plummeted by more than 50% since 1980. Like millions of workers who left their jobs during the Great Resignation, many drivers see better financial opportunities elsewhere.
(Another growing factor: Even as marijuana becomes legal in state after state, a positive drug test will still disqualify commercial drivers — including 32% more in 2022 than in 2021.)
Automation might take the unpleasantness out of long-haul trucking eventually, but for now, the question remains: With the freight economy on the line, how will companies and fleet managers incentivize Americans to join the trade? They might simply need to make it worth the drive.