The American Trucking Associations reported last year a shortage of more than 50,000 truck drivers across the U.S., warning the problem will only get worse. And some local companies say they’re feeling the pinch.
“We started seeing strong signs of it about five years ago and we’ve really battled it over the last three years,” said Jon Menke, vice president of Styline Logistics in Huntingburg.
Styline Logistics provides logistics services for OFS Brands and clients across 48 states. The company has a fleet of 180 over-the-road drivers (those that drive across state lines to anywhere in the continental U.S.) at three U.S. locations.
The average age of Styline Logistics’ drivers is 58, which Menke said is only making the driver shortage worse.
“The reason it’s getting worse in a quicker amount of time is because of the baby boomers flushing out and no new young replacements coming into the industry,” he said.
John Echelbarger, hiring manager for AT Transportation in Ferdinand, said one reason the younger generation might not be entering the industry is their value of family time.
“A lot of people like to talk about millennials and what sets them different, and one of the things that I think makes the millennial generation different is they will sacrifice money, and the amount they’re being compensated, for quality of life. That means more home time, more time with their family, their kids. That makes it to where as companies, we have to get very creative how we structure and how we make this attractive to that younger generation.”
According to data released by the American Trucking Associations in March, the median salary for a driver working a national, irregular route was more than $53,000. The median salary for a private fleet driver was more than $86,000.
Local companies say driver pay is attractive and many offer sign-on bonuses and other incentives to help secure drivers.
For example, Styline’s average pay is $70,000 annually and some drivers who work the maximum hours make as much as $110,000. And, add the bonuses and incentives on top of that.
“We’ve tried everything. And everybody’s throwing money at this problem and money’s not fixing it,” Menke said of attracting drivers. “We just really scratch our heads every day to figure out what’s the next best solution to try to work through this.”
Matt Schaick, national account manager and director of integration for Meyer Distributing in Jasper, compared the bonuses and incentives to “putting a bandaid on a cut that requires 40 stitches.” Meyer Distributing offers them, too.
“The problem is you need to get the stitches and fix the underlying issue and really the underlying issue is creating more supply of drivers because of the demand,” he said.
To drive a commercial motor vehicle, a person must obtain a commercial driver’s license from the state. To get a CDL, one must pass written knowledge tests, a skills test and a physical examination. A number of truck driving schools across the state can help with the process; however, Dubois County doesn’t have one.
One that had been in the works for Vincennes University Jasper Campus for several years has fallen through. Just like the industry’s driver trends, the school couldn’t find a qualified instructor.
“For one thing, it’s only a part-time position and qualified instructors can make much more money driving a truck or working in the industry,” said Jim McFaul, director of continuing education at VUJC. He added that the school has decided to no longer pursue a CDL program.
Even if the area had a school, it’s not guaranteed the students would be there to recruit as potential employees.
Menke recalled a visit the Styline Logistics recruiter made recently to a CDL school in Evansville. The school had only four students.
“No one is immune to this situation right now,” Menke said.
Also, federal law stipulates that as a CDL driver, you cannot drive across the state lines if you’re under 21.
“If you can’t catch them right out of high school, you’ve got that window of three years that they went off to find something else or some other type of occupation outside of trucking,” Menke said.
Schaick thinks that with enough buy-in from local schools, CDL instruction could be a vocational path for high school students.
“If they can take this as a course in high school and set the stage for them to be intrastate drivers until they are 21, I think it could go a long way,” he said. “Explain to a 16 to 18-year-old that they can make up to $100,000 in a few short years and have no out-of-pocket investment.”
He added that in some instances, Meyer Distributing will even hire someone and pay them to do another job within the company while they earn CDL accreditation and licensing on the company’s dime.
“Anybody interested in obtaining their CDL, we would work with them for them to achieve that,” Schaick said. “And they can do that in short order.”
Another hindrance to the industry, especially in Dubois County, companies say, is the unemployment rate; Dubois County’s rate in May was 2.4 percent.
“When unemployment is less than 3, your employment market’s completely tapped out. There’s no one left,” Menke said. “How do you bring new talent in?”
Now couple that unemployment rate with the amount of logistics companies competing for truck drivers in the county.
“All local companies are having to compete for what already is a finite amount of resources and it makes it all that much worse,” Schaick said.
Menke, Schaick and Echelbarger all said their companies put a lot of time and effort into recruiting and advertising for truck drivers.
Echelbarger said the key is how companies differentiate themselves from others. He added that AT Transportation does several things to make itself stand out, but didn’t want to divulge all his secrets.
“We want to make them feel like this is a family and this is a home,” he said, also saying that his company is currently in a good position in terms of truck drivers.
Schaick stressed that becoming a truck driver is a small investment for a high reward.
“There’s no better job out there,” he said.