Capacity Concerns Challenge Industry

It’s a problem that has haunted the trucking industry for years; who will be in the driver’s seat when the oldest generation of owner-operators retire? There’s a shortage of truck drivers in America and a recent white paper analysis from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), details the severity of the problem.

ATRI, an industry not-for-profit research organization, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which proves the dramatic need for younger drivers. Right now, the industry is dependent on owner-operators who are 45 years of age or older –many of whom are set to retire in the next 10 to 20 years. Complicating matters even further, is the fact that younger drivers, ages 35 and under, are not waiting on the sidelines to replace the older generation.

“We are suffering a double whammy of an aging work force nearing retirement and the younger generation’s lack of interest in the trucking way of life,” said Landstar Vice President of Heavy/Specialized Services, Jay Folladori. Having worked in the industry since 1975, this year Folladori served as chairman at the SC&RA Specialized Transportation Symposium, where he tackled the capacity shortage issue.

ATRI cites the Great Recession and the United States push toward secondary education as two reasons for the younger generation’s owner-operator shortage. According to ATRI, the recession in 2008-2009 caused a dramatic drop in demand for freight services. That drop resulted in big losses for thousands of owner-operators and once the economy turned around, many BCOs had found employment elsewhere, never to return to the trucking industry.

“The demand for truck capacity continues to climb, but fewer and fewer truck operators are entering the market,” said Landstar President and CEO Jim Gattoni.

A study from the Department of Education found a decline in vocational education between 1990 and 2009. The DOE study states that the average number of career and technical education credits earned by high school students during that time declined from 4.2 to 3.6 percent over 20 years. The push to increase the number of college graduates in the workforce in turn, decreased the number of students who may have pursued a career in the trucking industry.

“All of these industries must find a way to recruit youth to our businesses,” said Folladori. “As an industry, we need to simplify the hiring process, improve retention programs, increase compensation and provide opportunities for new drivers to be successful,” said Folladori.

Companies are working on recruitment and attracting new BCOs to the industry and even changing their hiring process in order to bring in more candidates.  However, federal requirements put a snafu in the hiring process as well. Right now, an individual cannot receive their Commercial Driver’s License until they are 21.

Some experts suggest that women are the key to fixing the driver shortage, still, according to the American Trucking Association, 100,000 drivers a year over the next 10 years are needed to keep up with the industry growth.

“It’s a challenge that Landstar works on every day. There are no drastic changes in the works. Just consistent, persistent work to be done. We’ll continue working with agents and carriers to get customers’ loads covered, and keep our capacity busy. We have the lowest owner-operator turnover rate in the industry, and we have every intention of keeping it that way,” said Gattoni.

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