America is short tens of thousands of truck drivers as supply chain woes increase at ports, creating shortages and pushing inflation higher. Truckers haul an astonishing 72.5% of all freight in the US and account for 6% of the full-time workforce.
Bob Costello, the Chief Economist for the American Trucking Association (ATA), told 6 News that the US is short a whopping 80,000 truck drivers, up from an estimated shortage of 61,500 drivers before the virus pandemic. He said the industry needs to recruit over a million drivers this decade to replace an aging workforce.
Costello said several factors contribute to the shortage of drivers, including age demographics, ongoing COVID pandemic, drug testing, trouble recruiting, pay, age restrictions (commercial drivers must be 21), and infrastructure issues.
He told Fortune that "there is no single cause of the driver shortage, that means there is no single solution, adding that "the solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes, and modifications to shippers', receivers' and carriers' business practices to improve conditions for drivers."
However, there is some good news as labor markets recover and increasing job transitions are underway, which is an uptick in applications for commercial driver's licenses.
Sunny Truck Driving School in Queens, New York, has added new training trucks to keep up with a flood of new applicants, according to BBC. The wait times to take the test have jumped from 4 weeks to 12 weeks. Some of the new applicants are former taxi and uber drivers, seeking higher pay after the pandemic left them jobless.
In Texas, the state government has expanded truck-driver license testing to six days a week (instead of five) in response to the nationwide shortage that has resulted in supply chain snarls. The pay is so good in The Lone Star State that one transportation company is offering drivers $14k per week.
Big trucking companies warn that driver shortages will persist into next year and pressure freight rates higher. An effort is already being made to process new drivers and get them on the road, but it could take years to attract new drivers and clear up the shortage. That's why companies are pushing towards automation and robot trucks.