The recent Colonial Pipeline shutdown verified something we have long known – we have a shortage of qualified truck drivers. One option considered was to move gasoline by truck, but they could not find enough tank truck drivers to make it a viable option.

Truck Driver Shortage

The shortage of drivers for tank trucks is not the only driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association. the biggest problem faced by the trucking industry today is an overall shortage of professional truck drivers. The situation started in 2005 when the driver shortage was estimated at 20,000. That number had grown to 50,700 by 2017 and has since risen to an estimate of 60,000. To meet the rising demand and lack of drivers, the trucking industry predicts in the next ten years it will need to hire 1.1 million drivers to alleviate the shortage; do the math and it comes out to 110,000 per year.

If you think about it, everything we use as consumers is carried by a truck at some point. Some goods are hauled by truck from their point of origin to their final destination; other goods may start out being hauled by train, plane, or ship, but must be delivered to their final destination by truck.

Reasons for the Truck Driver Shortage

So what is causing the driver shortage? There are a number of factors. The main one is an aging driver population. Today, 57% of drivers are over 45 years old; 23% are over 55, meaning that almost one fourth of the drivers today will retire within the next 10 years. And it is an industry right now where not as many people are coming in as are going out. With fewer replacements and load demand increasing, the 5.6:1 load-to-truck ratio will get worse. This ratio means there are 5.6 loads for each truck available to haul them.

Second is the minimum age requirement. The Department of Transportation’s trucking industry regulator – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association – mandates that drivers must be at least 21 to drive a commercial motor vehicle interstate. This prevents hiring new high school graduates from entering into the industry. By age 21, many are already established into their chosen career and don’t want to change to driving truck.

Third is the less than desirable lifestyle. Truckers are typically behind the wheel driving for up to 14 hours a day. Many over-the-road truckers (known as OTRs) eat most of their meals at truck stops, which are not known for healthy options. Sitting and driving that many hours a day for days on end is hard on the body; couple that with very little exercise and over time it takes a toll on health.

Fourth, a low rate of pay. That used to be a deterrent, but that is changing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the annual median wage as of May 2020 was $47,130. This means that half of drivers make more than the median; the highest 10% of drivers earned $69,480 in 2020. A giant in the trucking industry, Werner Enterprises based out of Omaha, reports their first year starting pay for new drivers is $50,000 per year … a 17% increase over the last two years.

To further attract more people into this industry, many of the trucking companies are offering sign-on bonuses, along with benefits commonly found in other industries, such as paid vacation, paid sick leave, health, dental and vision coverage, a 401k plan, and some even offer life insurance plans.

Veterans: Consider a Trucking Career

For veterans, becoming a truck driver can be a good career choice. Most veterans meet the minimum age requirement of 21 and possess many of the desired soft skills for the job, including responsible, trustworthy, able to make decisions, and mission oriented.  If you are thinking of separating from the military, like driving (a lot) and have a good driving record, this can be a career that you can enter quickly.

All that is usually required is a few weeks of training and passing the Commercial Driving License (CDL) exam (and any endorsements needed) to qualify as a commercial motor vehicle operator. Training can be through a vocational/technical school, private truck driving school or through one of many trucking companies offering their own training programs, such a Swift Transportation, Roehl Transport, Knight Transportation and Stevens Transport. Trained military drivers, such as Army 88Ms are often hired into driving positions without any formal training required, provided they can pass the CDL exam, which is a federal requirement to drive commercially.

Also, heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers is one of the high demand categories in the new VRRAP – Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program. Under this program, veterans get paid to train in one of the high demand fields requiring 12 months or less of training. The VA pays for the training and the student receives a monthly housing allowance (MHA) while in training; the average MHA is $1,400 per month. Some veterans go on to form their own trucking companies in which they can use their GI Bill to take business courses and learn how to operate a company.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.