Truck Drivers

Opportunity can come from an unfilled need. That’s true here although it may be hard to believe the country is in the midst of a severe driver shortage when 40 percent of the traffic on PA interstates is trucks.

Pennsylvania employment projections point to a heavy truck driver growth rate of 8.6 percent between 2016 and 2026 and the need to hire over 10,000 drivers a year. The overall state employment growth rate will rise more slowly at 5.5 percent. Nationally average annual openings to compensate for growth, retirements and occupation changes are projected to be almost 325,000 for tractor-trailer and light truck drivers combined.

Even these numbers pale when compared to those from the American Trucking Association (ATA). They estimate the current shortage to be over 50,000 and project it to balloon to more than 100,000 drivers by 2022 and 175,000 by 2026. They also factor that just to replace drivers leaving the industry, mainly due to retirements, 900,000 drivers will need to be trained and hired over the next ten years.

How do you hire that many people for one occupation every year? You don’t and therein lies the problem. And trucking is such an integral part of the economy, hauling 70 percent of freight, that the shortage is causing prices to creep up as costs climb which in turn translates to higher prices at the register. Our pain can be your career gain.

Companies are increasingly turning to higher wages to secure drivers and ensure their shipments are delivered on time. Salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median (half make more, half make less) at $42,480.

The ATA’s 2018 Driver Compensation Study showed a median of $53,000 for a truckload driver working a national, irregular route, a $7,000 increase from the 2013 study. Private fleet driver pay rose to more than $86,000 – a gain of nearly 18 percent or $13,000 – from 2013.

Walmart is one concrete example of that higher pay. Recent stories in late 2018 discussed their success in recruiting drivers and certainly one reason is the salary. Their own career website details postings offering an average of $87,500 annually plus bonuses and many additional benefits. 

Beyond higher pay employers are reacting to the shortage by offering sign-on bonuses and increasing or newly offering benefits like paid leave, health insurance and 401(k)s in bids for retention.

While not a cure-all one potential solution to ease the shortage is the Drive-Safe Act proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives which would bring in younger drivers. Currently federal law prohibits truck drivers under age 21 from crossing state lines, although drivers 18 and older can operate Class 8 trucks within state borders. A tractor-trailer is a Class 8 truck. As examples think how this restriction impacts the ability of a driver to cross the river between Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, or drive from DC to Baltimore, a mere 40 miles.

The bill, if approved, would create a two-step safety program, involving a combination of driving time and in-cab mentoring plus other rules, for 18 to 20 year old Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers which, when completed, would allow them to drive interstate. Passage isn’t guaranteed, but is one way the industry is seeking to address the problem.

As well a three year pilot program has been proposed by the Department of Transportation permitting those veterans and reservists aged 18 to 20 who already possess the military equivalent of a CDL to operate interstate.

What does all this mean for your career search? Opportunity. A selection of jobs, higher pay and better benefits in an occupation that you can prepare for in a short amount of time even right out of high school.

In Pennsylvania trucking schools are not licensed or regulated so consider schools that offer national accreditation or Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) Certification. In PA there are nine certified training programs. For more information visit the PTDI website. PTDI is not a school; rather they certify courses at schools and their certified programs exceed the government's entry level driver training regulations. The average length of PTDI-certified courses is four to six weeks with a minimum of 104 classroom/lab hours and a minimum of 44 behind-the-wheel hours.

Other options are via companies which operate their own CDL schools. Graduating from these may provide a guaranteed job after graduation and licensure.

And if you’re a recent veteran the ability to obtain your CDL license is even easier. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation states that the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Skills Test is waived for “Pennsylvania residents who are active or reserve duty military or recent honorably discharged veterans. Provided those service members have at least two years' experience operating a commercial motor vehicle as part of their military job requirements. The waiver applies to CDL applicants who wish to operate vehicles similar to those they operated in the military.” You will still need to take the applicable knowledge tests. For more information see the DMV website. 

The trucking shortage isn’t going away anytime soon which makes this is a great time to start your career in the industry.