Among the freight transport companies that held their earnings calls over the last week, the shortage of professional truck drivers was a frequent topic.
“The unrelenting national shortage of qualified drivers is a long-term double-edged sword for our industry, simultaneously tightening the freight market while limiting fleet size,” Marten Transport Executive Chairman Randolph L. Marten said in a press release.
The industry’s truck driver shortage was estimated at 80,000 drivers — a historic high — in 2021, according to the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Driver Shortage Update 2021. This figure is the difference between the current number of drivers and the optimal number needed to meet freight demand.
“At current trends, the shortage could surpass 160,000 in 2030,” the ATA said in its report.
Overcoming the Driver Shortage
When trucking company Marten Transport released its earnings report on July 18, Marten’s remarks in the press release were largely devoted to the driver shortage, the number of drivers the company has retained and how it has done so.
In a presentation released in conjunction with the call, Marten Transport reported that it had countered the trend and increased the number of its drivers by 422 in a year, growing by 123 during the previous quarter alone.
“Our approach to overcoming the driver shortage is a heightened emphasis on structurally improving our drivers’ jobs and work-life balance by collaborating with our customers, while also increasing our driver compensation,” Marten said in the release.
In another recent earnings call, J.B. Hunt Transport Services listed labor availability as a trend that puts a strain on the effective utilization of the company’s capacity.
“The driver market remains competitive and challenging, but it feels more stable than it has in a while but at considerably higher cost,” Nick Hobbs, chief operating officer and president of contract services at J.B. Hunt, said during the company’s July 19 quarterly earnings call.
Similarly, executives at diversified freight transportation company Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings said during a quarterly earnings call on July 20 that the sourcing and retaining of drivers continues to be a limiting factor, noting that driver wages are going up.
“Recruiting and retaining drivers continues to be a challenge, but we are seeing improvements sequentially in our ability to recruit drivers,” Knight-Swift Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Adam Miller said during the call. “This has allowed us to make progress toward reducing the number of unseated trucks and slow the reduction in productivity year over year.”
In its Driver Shortage Update 2021, the ATA said some of the factors contributing to the shortage include a high average age of drivers that leads to a high number of retirements, as well as a reduction in the number of drivers trained in schools in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Additionally, drivers face lifestyle and job-related issues such as the time away from home, a lack of truck parking spots that makes it difficult for drivers to get a spot for the night and congestion, which limits drivers’ ability to make deliveries.
“The solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes and modifications to shippers’, receivers’ and carriers’ business practices to improve conditions for drivers,” the ATA said.