Preparing for the Rough Road Ahead: Taking a Long-Term Look at How the Driver Shortage Is Affecting LTL

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry expected a driver shortage of more than 50,000 at the end of 2017. Unfortunately, it’s projected to only get worse. By the ATA’s projections, the shortage could extend to more than 174,000 drivers by 2026.

Here are some of the leading factors affecting the shortage and why the answer isn’t as simple as just staffing up or getting more rigs on the road.

Factors affecting the driver shortage

An aging workforce

The average age of a trucker is 49. Each year, thousands are “aging out” of the industry. In fact, the ATA has estimated that nearly half of all new hires through 2026 will go just to replacing drivers who are taking retirement.

The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate

Some drivers simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of the mandate or don’t want “Big Brother” in their cab and have opted to leave the industry. Others are quitting because the tighter enforcement of hours of service means their “tweener” route that used to take a day, now takes two.

Time away from home

As a truck driver, it’s common to work 60-70-hour weeks. If you think about it, that’s nearly double the time of the average 9-5 office job. This can be difficult for drivers with families or those thinking about starting a family in the future. Simply put, all this time on the road means limited time at home with loved ones.

Factors making matters even worse

A strong economy

While the number of drivers has remained mostly constant, the number of shipments has increased thanks to a growing economy in 2017.

The continuing rise of e-commerce

In the past, LTL has been less significantly impacted by capacity issues than TL shipping. However, as consumers continue to do more of their shopping online, most of the increased demand is falling to LTL carriers who must deal with a larger number of smaller shipments.

2017 hurricanes

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria shook up the shipping industry with a sudden and dramatic increase in demand for goods like building supplies throughout the South.

No help on the horizon

Even with many carriers offering generous incentive programs, the industry is struggling to replace retiring drivers, let alone grow staff to accommodate increasing demand from a strong economy combined with natural disasters.

What you can do now to prepare for the future

With the industry entering an era where capacity will be a continual challenge, it’s the businesses that prepare themselves now that will have the upper hand. Here’s what you can do today to put yourself in the driver’s seat.

Become a preferred shipper

Make your freight look as attractive to carriers as possible. With ELD implementation, every minute they’re at your loading dock is a minute they’re not on the road. Get them in, out, and on the road as quickly as you can. Some hospitality while they wait can go a long way, as well.

Evaluate your logistics

Experts recommend a yearly freight spend analysis that can find opportunities to streamline your operation. For example, you might be better off switching some of your truckload freight to rail, or you may be able to consolidate multiple LTL shipments into a single TL shipment.

Be as flexible as possible

If you can provide longer lead times and be flexible with pickup and delivery windows, carriers are far more likely to find a way to fit your shipment into their schedule.

Rely on your freight service provider

If you’re having trouble getting a shipment out the door with your same 2-3 “go-to” carriers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that capacity isn’t out there. Freight service providers have relationships with thousands of carriers and can work with you to find one that fits your needs.

The driver shortage we are faced with in 2018 has been fueled by a number of factors; however, not all hope is lost. With some careful planning and adhering to shipping best practices, shippers can still get their freight on the road and delivered to its destination in a timely manner.

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