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WSJ: Trucking Coming Up Short in Search for Young Drivers

The Wall Street Journal recently chronicled the growing shortage of truck drivers and how replacing the aging driver pool with new faces is a challenging mission for carriers .

The the average age of truck drivers is nearing 50, the WSJ notes, and trucking companies and their customers face a looming demographic problem because fewer younger workers are interested in filling empty seats:

Kevin Young, a 37-year-old truck driver from Kentucky, is the third generation in his family to take to the open road and loves his job so much that he’s lost two marriages over it.

One of his ex-wives told him flat out, “Pick me or the truck,” said Mr. Young, who got his Commercial Driver’s License as soon as he was eligible at age 21. “I’m married to my third wife now. It isn’t just a job to me, it is a lifestyle. It is a career.”

Mr. Young is part of a vanishing breed. The trucking industry is beginning to feel the impact of a shortfall of some 35,000 to 40,000 drivers needed to move goods, according to the American Trucking Associations, or ATA. Some believe this will grow to as much as 240,000 drivers by 2022, said Gail Rutkowski, executive director of the National Shippers Transportation Council, or NASSTRAC.

Experts say there are many reasons behind the shortage, including more stringent work requirements as safety regulations have expanded and low pay that, despite recent gains, has made the tough working conditions tougher to bear. But trucking is also driving headlong into demographic reality: its workforce is getting older, and younger Americans are showing less interest in a career on the highway.

While the average age of the American worker is 42, the average age of drivers has reached 49 as drivers retire and the industry struggles to attract new drivers. Some fleets have an average driver age in the late 50s. Poor treatment of drivers at shipping facilities and federal government restrictions that can force drivers to take breaks away from home between shifts have made a tough job even tougher, drivers and logistics executives say.

“Nobody wants to be a truck driver. All the drivers are old…no one’s going into the industry,” said Rich Thompson, head of the supply-chain and logistics consultancy for Jones Lang LaSalle.The shortage “is huge, it’s one of the things that keeps our clients up at night.”

The shortage is buffeting the trucking industry as the volume of goods grows with the economy.

Doug Stotlar, chief executive officer of Con-Way a less-than-truckload carrier based in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in announcing the company’s earnings last month that the driver shortage is holding back the company’s growth. “The tight driver market is limiting our ability to fully seat our fleet,” Mr. Stotlar said.

It is also increasing costs for shippers as carriers step up efforts to recruit and retain drivers. Patrick McDermott, director of logistics for Basco Corp., a Mason, Ohio-based shower-door maker that produces about 800 shipments a week, said carrier shipping rates have gone up 8% in a year “at a time when diesel fuel, which is typically one of the largest drivers of trucking cost, dropped nearly 25%.”

Basco has had trouble keeping truck drivers for more than 10 months in its small private fleet that employs nine drivers because larger companies are in something of a poaching war, paying thousands of dollars in sign-on bonuses to attract new drivers, he said. The company has stepped up recruiting and lowered its requirement for previous experience “to the point that we will take a kid right out of school,” Mr. McDermott said ….

The way things are going, Mr. McDermott said, Basco may no longer be able to operate its own fleet if the hiring trouble persists. Turning to outside providers will drive up costs, he said, and the company will have to raise prices on its products, too.

‘If we don’t start getting drivers that are qualified, this country is going to face a tremendous, tremendous hardship.’

“It is almost at an epidemic point where rates are going to double and triple in the near future,” said Anthony Berritto, CEO of Salson Logistics Co. in Newark, N.J., which owns a fleet of 650 trucks. “If we don’t start educating and starting to get drivers into the trucks that are qualified…this country is going to face a tremendous, tremendous, hardship.”

Read full WSJ story here:

For more on the driver shortage challenge in Canada, click here

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