There’s no denying the major challenge facing the trucking industry in America – there just aren’t enough drivers to go around. Shortages have been plaguing the industry for years, and there’s little sign that any major change is on the way.
We were interested to see what other trends were affecting the industry so Capterra recently completed a survey of 200+ trucking industry employees. Employment was – predictably – the largest concern, with results showing that almost a third of respondents were working for companies that needed more drivers.
We also asked about the impact of fuel prices on the industry and what sorts of technology were being used behind the wheel. Here’s an overview of what we found.
Of those surveyed, 32% said that their businesses needed more truckers. That supports October’s report from the American Trucking Association (ATA), which found that the industry was short about 48,000 drivers. If we keep going on the way we’re going, that number could reach as high as 175,000 by 2024.
In our study, it didn’t matter if you were driving short or long distances, it didn’t matter where in the country you were based – everyone is looking for drivers.
One of the biggest factors behind this shortage is the ageing population of truckers. Again, according to the ATA, the average trucker is now 49. The industry hasn’t found success in hiring younger drivers, and that’s shaping everything that’s set to come next.
A study from the American Transportation Research Institute delves even deeper into how skewed the trucking industry’s age distribution is. The 2014 demographic study found that just 45% of the trucking industry is under the age of 45 – across the rest of the American landscape, that figure is 55%.
For years, there have been a confluence of issues to put us in this position. First, until recently, truckers’ pay wasn’t keeping up with inflation. That meant that the value of being a trucker dropped, relative to the rest of the economy.
This, of course, has made the industry less inviting to young people entering the workforce – a workforce they can’t even enter until they turn 21, by the way.
Second, trucking has remained steadfastly a male-dominated industry, which means cutting out half the number of potential employees, right out of the gate. Female drivers haven’t made up more than 6% of truckers over the past decade and a half, according to the ATA.
On the plus side of the demographics coin, trucking has made some huge strides in getting minorities involved. 39% of drivers are now minorities, according to the ATA, whereas that percentage was just 27% back in 2001.
Finally, the cost and effectiveness of trucking directly impacts the final cost of goods. That means any change in pay, any drop in employment, any change in fuel rates has to be absorbed into the larger economy, and we hate that.
The cost of doing business
As a good example of how fuel surcharges affect the general economy, see the recent increases from FedEx and UPS. Unfortunately, it’s just the cost of doing business. In Capterra’s survey, we found that a full 51% of respondents spent over 25% of their revenue on gas.
Companies may get some relief from this pressure, as oil prices have recently dropped to level not seen for a decade. Even so, fuel will continue to be a major factor in the planning and management of the trucking industry.
One of the most popular tools for managing trucking costs has to be a truck’s GPS system. With technological advances coming every year, we’re seeing more and more reliance on GPS for refueling, routing, and tracking.
In our survey, we found a clear distinction between the top two GPS players – Garmin and TomTom – and the rest of the industry. A full two-thirds of respondents used either a Garmin or TomTom system – 43% and 23% respectively – with Magellan, Cobra, and Rand McNally rounding out the top five with a combined 21% of the market.
The remaining 13% used Google, an iPhone, a smaller provider, or nothing at all. Considering the massive cost benefits from using a GPS, it’s a wonder that any company or driver wouldn’t have one installed.
Despite there being other trends and hurdles for the industry, the biggest problem facing trucking is the current driver shortage. It’s proved to be relatively immune to pay increases or shifts in marketing and attitude. A shift in regulations may be able to alleviate some of the immediate pressure, but there still needs to be a long-term plan in place to solve staffing issues five, ten, or fifteen years from now.
Cutting fuel costs, increasing efficiency, and managing time and expense with GPS systems can all help companies clear some of the smaller hurdles, but we’re just starting a long race. Look for more challenges in the years ahead.
Header by Rachel Wille