The truck and transportation sector lost 36,700 employees in August. But that doesn’t mean motor carriers closed or that truck drivers experienced mass layoffs. Instead, many of those jobs were lost as drivers either retired or left trucking for another industry.
Brad Ball, president of Roadmasters Drivers School, offered The Trucker some insight into the truck driver shortage and what is being done about it.
“The driver shortage is caused by a number of things,” he said. “Right now, it’s muted because of the economy. The ATA estimates a shortage of 64,000 drivers this year, and that’s down from 78,000 last year.”
Ball says he anticipates the shortage will grow over the next 10 years as the economy improves.
“The average age of a trucker right now is about 55 years old. They’ll be retiring, and with the economy on the rebound, there’ll be jobs for drivers,” Ball said. “There are already jobs out there for all our graduates. Our students are pre-hired and have a job ad company ready to go to work for.”
Founded three decades ago, Roadmasters now has 24 training locations around the country and graduates about 7,000 drivers a year. For Roadmasters, pre-hiring is a prerequisite for entering the school. All graduating students have been through physical exams and drug testing and are ready to hit the road with their new carriers, according to Ball.
“It doesn’t benefit anyone to put drivers through school then find out they can’t get a job,” he said.
“As far as our driving school is concerned, we are recruiting the unemployed and underemployed,” he continued.
Prospective students don’t have to have any prior training in the trucking industry to start.
“We aren’t looking for college degrees,” Ball said. “If you were to walk onto one of our campuses, you’d find the average age of a student somewhere in their 30s.”
Driver training can open the door to a whole new career for many students.
“Lots look to driving as a first step into the transportation industry,” Ball said, adding that driving is a very diverse occupation and that Roadmasters now enrolls about 20% female students.
“It’s a great industry for people from all walks of life,” he said. “The industry has worked hard to make trucking safer. Younger people can stay in touch with family through social media. There are more truck features, both for comfort and safety.”
In addition, truck drivers can often find jobs that allow them to be home as much (or as little) as they like.
“Home time is of great appeal to our younger drivers,” Ball said. “Many of our graduates start off driving over the road for about six months then find their way into local, regional, or dedicated jobs that provide more home time.”
While federal law prohibits drivers under the age of 21 to transport cargo across state lines, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been working to implement an apprenticeship program that could allow qualified 18- to 20-year-old drivers to participate in interstate transport.
Ball says Roadmasters is closely watching the initiative and its results, noting that these younger drivers can already drive long distances — from Key West, Florida, all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, for example — but can’t cross state lines on runs that are much shorter in length.
“The planned pilot program hasn’t taken hold yet,” he said. “Initially, it had requirements that made it difficult for carriers to comply.”
Overall, Ball says, the trucking industry is one industry that is going to be seeking workers, particularly drivers, over the next decade.
“It’s a great industry,” Ball said. “The pay is good, benefits are good, and there is job security. It’s not an easy job but it’s a good one.”
Ball says the economy is key to the future of the occupation.
“The driver shortage will grow,” he said. “Pay will increase, and more people will be attracted to the industry.”
To those worried about the impact of automation, such as “self-driving” trucks on the nation’s need for truck drivers, Ball says it’s not a concern. Even the most sophisticated automated systems for heavy-duty trucks require a human operator.
“We don’t see driverless vehicles,” he said. “Driver-assisted perhaps. But a new driver coming out of school today will always have a job in the trucking industry.”
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.