For some time now, the freight industry has been sounding alarm bells about the potential impact of the growing trucker shortage across the U.S., and similar headlines have cropped up in other major nations as well. Simply put, the global appetite for e-commerce and other shipping needs is growing rapidly, but the number of drivers in the sector is shrinking.This is having a major effect on freight bandwidth.

Interestingly,  The American Trucking Associations have been decrying a trucker shortage dating as far back as the 1980s, while Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, has been saying for some time that, "There is no shortage," according to National Public Radio's Planet Money. What's really happening to fuel this concern is that many truckers enter the industry each year, but roughly as many — and sometimes more — leave it as well.

Are there enough truck drivers to meet the supply chain's need?Are there enough truck drivers to meet the supply chain's need?

That leads to a disconnect between the number of people who are licensed to be truckers and the number who are actively engaged in doing the job, the report said. Many enter the field and leave just as quickly because the work isn't for them; the pay is solid for many parts of the country but not highly lucrative, and the schedule and demands of the job can easily cause burnout.

"We have millions of people who have been trained to be heavy-duty truck drivers who are currently not working as heavy-duty truck drivers because the entry-level jobs are terrible," says Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the trucking industry.

A bigger concern
In recent weeks, there were headlines about a potential gasoline shortage in the U.S., leading many to stock up (often in unsafe ways) even if the concerns dramatically overreached any actual issue. But according to Minneapolis television station KARE, the shortage that is really hitting consumers at the pump — and in the pocketbook — is more closely related to the number of drivers who are licensed to haul fuel.

Nationwide, as many as 1 in 4 tanker trucks that can haul 8,000 gallons of refined gasoline are going unused because there aren't enough certified truckers to operate them, the report said. That's not leading gas stations to run out of fuel, but it is leading to fuel prices spiking in recent months. The national average price ended June sitting at around $3 per gallon, the highest level observed since 2014.

The industry response
As with any supply-and-demand issue around labor, there's one great way for freight companies to overcome the driver shortage: Paying more. Transport Topics notes that this has been a standard for the industry for the last few years, but because demand continues to increase, so too do wages and, nearly as often, signing bonuses. The more experienced the driver, the better the pay, and this is clearly aimed at getting licensed drivers who are no longer practicing the trade to get back into the industry.

This is an issue that anyone working in the supply chain will have to monitor carefully in the months and years ahead, because in all likelihood, the driver shortage is likely to grow more strained as time goes on.

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