Following Information is attributed to American Transportation Research Institute
Analysis of Truck Driver Age Demographics Across Two Decades – 2014
A variety of reports and anecdotal information confirm that the average age of truck drivers is older than the average age in many other sectors of the U.S. workforce. There is also evidence that post-Baby Boomer generations, particularly those now in their twenties and early thirties (i.e. “Millennials”), are not entering the industry in sufficient numbers. Thus, as older generations (e.g. the Baby Boomers) enter retirement, an even larger driver shortage may begin to emerge.
The Connection between Demographics and the Truck Driver Shortage
The American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) Research Advisory Committee (RAC) identified an analysis of driver age demographics as a leading research priority in 2013. Specifically, the research proposal recommended by the RAC would analyze driver age demographics across a 20-year timeframe in an effort to draw connections between the driver shortage and an aging driver population. Ultimately, the findings of this research illustrate the industry’s dependence on a single employee cohort that will enter retirement age in less than a decade. Intensifying this problem is a dearth of replacement drivers. As the data will show, the younger industry cohorts (i.e. age groups) have been steadily decreasing in size. Ultimately, by highlighting this issue it is hoped that trucking companies and other industry stakeholders will gain a better understanding of how critical the shortage may become as a result of demographics.
The findings illustrate the differences between members of the Truck Transportation category and other workforce categories. More than 31 percent of trucking employees in 2013 fell into the 45-54 age group, which is a higher figure than the other employee categories. Likewise, a lower percentage (15.6%) of 25-34 year olds were employed within trucking compared with the other categories. It should also be noted that there is a greater percentage of persons age 65 or older (6.1%) employed in the trucking industry than there are 20-24 year olds (4.9%); this trend is not present in the other workforce categories. One pressing question that emerges is whether there will be enough experienced 25-34 year olds to take the place of the large 45-54 cohort when they retire in the coming 10 to 20 years.
As previously noted, the decline does not appear to be the result of overall changes in U.S. demographics, nor has the industry consistently been composed of older employees. Quite the opposite, the trucking industry workforce is now decreasing its share of younger employees and is heavily reliant upon a specific “trucking generation” – the core of which is currently within the 45-54 year old age group.
Identifying a single causal factor for the decrease in younger Truck Transportation employees is difficult. One likely and ongoing contributor is the continued difficulty in transitioning from high school to employment in trucking. If a high school graduate desires to become a truck driver he or she must first wait several years to qualify for a CDL; to be an over the-road truck driver, a person may have to wait years longer. Those gaps in time must be filled with either employment of another type or continuing education. Another explanation could be the Great Recession. During that time period the dramatic drop in demand for freight services resulted in the loss of thousands of truck driver jobs. As the economy turned around, many former truck drivers may have found gainful employment in other sectors such as the oil and construction industries.
Broader availability of secondary education may also be a factor. As the U.S. economy evolves toward a service-sector orientation, unofficial national policy goals have sought to increase the number of college graduates in the workforce. This policy ostensibly conflicts with a truck driving career. Therefore, while college does not preclude people from a career in trucking, the educational attainment data for the U.S. indicate that over the past 20+ years there has been growth in college degrees and a decrease in the share of truck transportation employees in the younger cohorts.
Post Secondary Education
A more recent DOE analysis in 2013 found that a decline in vocational education had occurred between 1990 and 2009, stating “the average number of career and technical education (CTE) credits earned by U.S. public high school graduates declined, from 4.2 to 3.6, while the average number of credits earned in other subject areas increased. The ongoing trend in decreased vocational education and increased academic education will likely draw more high school students to postsecondary education where they are less likely to enter a career as a truck driver.
Potentially exacerbating this issue, there has been growth in the percentage of trucking employees that are in the age range of 55-64 and 65+. While employees in these groups are anecdotally said to be the most skilled and reliable, they are much closer to the current average U.S. retirement age of 62.
A significant number of these employees may currently be at a point in their career where retirement is an option, and many are eligible at the age of 62 to begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits. In a worst-case scenario, a sudden uptick in theretirement of drivers age 62 or older could have a significant negative impact on the current shortage. Next Steps To address these findings, the industry will need to develop a program that specifically targets younger generations of workers with appropriate messaging, including the benefits of a career in trucking. It is particularly important that the industry engage those in the 25-34 age range and younger. Related research should investigate the expectations and perspectives of Millennials as to their work habits, compensation expectations and lifestyle needs.
In summary, this analysis offers evidence that the driver shortage is likely to become considerably worse in the coming years. To counter this trend, long- and short-term initiatives should be developed to attract those under the age of 35 to the industry. In the short-term, this means identifying methods for attracting the “millennial” generation to the industry and maintaining the current employee base.
The Drive4College program addresses the need through alignment of the interdependence of all required stakeholders.