Trucking industry losing drivers faster than they can recruit

By Ross Norton

South Carolina is looking for a few good truckers — more than a few, actually.

Players in the industry say we already have a trucker shortage and a single statistic suggests it will get worse if something doesn’t change. Truckers are aging. While almost half of them are older than 52, according to data from the South Carolina Trucking Association, just 0.5% are between 18 and 21 years old.

For whatever reason, said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority, younger people don’t want to be truckers, and that’s something the transportation and logistics industries need to address.

“If we treat them with respect and dignity and make sure they have good working conditions and get in and out efficiently, then they can make a decent living,” he said.

The South Carolina Trucking Association says the nation is 50,000 short of the number of drivers needed to meet the need now and the shortage will grow to 175,000 by 2024 if the current trend continues. A report from the American Trucking Association says 900,000 truckers are needed in the next decade just to keep pace with current demands.

A report from the online freight marketplace DAT Solutions says just one truck was available for every 12 loads awaiting shipment in January this year, the most unbalanced market since the days just after Hurricane Katrina.

The South Carolina Trucking Association is encouraging action in a number of areas, including changes that would lower insurance companies’ expectations of experience for new drivers and laws that would enable drivers under 21 to cross the borders of states adjacent to the one that has licensed them. Currently drivers under 21 can’t cross state borders. The association also is looking for ways to partner with high schools, technical colleges and industry to develop a pool of drivers.

The Truck Driving Training Program at Greenville Technical College is always full, according to Brian Chambers, academic program director. The nine-week program graduates 55-60 students each semester and he said the trucking industry is eager for them to finish.

“I had four emails today and I get calls every day from people wanting to know if I can recommend a driver,” he said on a recent afternoon. “So the demand for employment is there and it’s growing.”

He said first-year truck drivers can make $45,000 to $70,000 a year.

“It depends on the company and how much they’re willing to work,” Chambers said, “but if they’re willing to work five days a week and get out there and work and hustle, they can make toward the high end of that range very easily.”

Several attempts to get comments from trucking companies for this story were unsuccessful.

The shortage is not bringing business to a halt, at least not in the international intermodal industry, which is where the ports come in, but Newsome said the shipping industry is keenly aware that cargo movement could be affected if the shortage extends much further.

“I can’t say we’ve seen a slow-down but we are aware that it could happen,” he said. “Every meeting I go to the trucker shortage is part of the discussion.”