Keep on trucking… please!
You’ll probably be glad to know that this week’s Talking Point is not about Brexit nor does it concern NAFTA. Important as these issues are, indeed vital for the automotive industry, nothing has changed since the last time I shared my thoughts with you. No, this week I’m revisiting an older issue and one which is of critical importance to the industry today. I refer, of course, to the continuing and worsening shortage of skilled truck drivers.
At the recent annual gathering of the American Trucking Associations, the President and CEO Chris Spear reported in his state of the industry address that the shortfall of drivers in the US has reached 50,000 and that this figure is expected to double in the next five years. American truckers are older than the general population of the US, 49 compared with 42. There are more of them retiring than there are younger people entering the sector. And the situation could worsen pretty quickly from next month. That’s when new federal regulations come into force, namely the electronic logging device mandate which will require drivers to electronically log their miles. This is not expected to be a popular measure, especially for older drivers who turn up their noses at new technology and may instead opt to retire. It will also affect those drivers who currently flout the regulations concerning driving hours - currently no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour working shift.
Drivers wages are now the highest percentage of overall cost for trucking companies and these are continuing to rise as the laws of supply and demand kick in. Apparently, when drivers are resting at a truck stop, they are now more likely to be accosted by recruiters than by the traditional drug pushers and hookers. Driver-power is also becoming an issue. Unlike in the bad old post-depression days when a job was a job and people were glad to accept almost anything, drivers today are laying down conditions about what sort of rig they drive - nothing over four years old, for example. Signing-on fees and hotel accommodation in hotels also feature in their list of demands.This is also adding to the cost factor for the employers.
How long the shortage lasts, and the problem is not only in the US, depends largely on the speed of transition to autonomous trucks. Once self-driving trucks become the norm, the boot will be on the other foot. Until then, keep going guys, we need you.
Simon Duval Smith
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