The trucking industry in the U.S. has dealt with a shortage of truck drivers from time to time, but the issue has now become what some analysts call a “crisis”—and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.


“During the last recession, beginning in 2008, the driver shortage had been eliminated due to industry volume plummeting, but as it began to recover in 2011, so too did the re-emergence of the shortage come about as well, growing to 38,000 jobs by 2014, and 48,000 by the end of 2015,” Rod Suarez, economic analyst for American Trucking Associations (ATA), writes in an article on Industry Today. “If the current trend holds, the driver shortage may explode to nearly 175,000 by 2024.”


In response, the trucking industry will need to hire a total of 890,000 new drivers, or an average of 89,000 a year, according to Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2015 report, compiled by Suarez and Bob Costello, chief economist and senior vice president for ATA. Replacing retiring truck drivers will be by far the largest challenge, accounting for nearly half of the new driver hires (45 percent). The second largest challenge will be to accommodate industry growth, accounting for 33 percent of new driver hires, they explain.


In response, Suarez writes, companies are aggressively taking action, however, providing drivers with—in addition to increased pay—expanded incentives and application outlets, including more at-home time, lowering the driver age, improving the overall driver image and hiring more military veterans.


With the driver shortage in mind, I was interested to recently see that Jane Jazrawy, chief executive of CarriersEdge, a provider of online safety and compliance training tools, spoke about increasing ethnic diversity as a means to help alleviate the driver shortage during her presentation at the recent Truckload Carriers Associations’ Workforce Builders Conference.


Jazrawy’s presentation included data from a new report by the UCLA Study for the Center for Inequality and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, which indicates that, overall, the fastest growing populations are non-white. The research indicates that nationwide, the percentage of minorities climbed from 32.9 percent in 2004 to 37.9 percent in 2014. Jazrawy also cited research by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company which shows companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have above average financial returns and those in the top quarter for gender diversity only are 15 percent more likely.


“From a driver shortage point of view there is under-representation of minorities in trucking, and there has been very little attention paid to this fact,” Jazrawy said. “The focus has been on women and veterans because there are larger numbers of people in both of those groups, but it is an oversight to not look harder at what trucking companies could be doing to attract and retain ethnic minorities.”


Jazrawy also reported on successful practices among fleets in the Best Fleets to Drive For program. The annual survey and contest produced by CarriersEdge and the Truckload Carriers Association identifies for-hire carriers providing the best workplace experiences for their drivers.


“Some of the best fleets have bilingual staff that includes driver supervisors, recruiters and trainers, as well as payroll and safety personnel,” Jazrawy said. “They also work with drivers to make accommodations for particular religious beliefs, for instance allowing drivers to be home on certain days or not hauling products like alcohol or pork.”


Considering that compared to other methods of transportation, trucking accounts for 70 percent of all freight transferred across the country, and that the driver shortage is growing, it makes sense to identify and recruit from many different labor pools. Working to improve ethnic diversity could help alleviate the driver shortage.


What are your thoughts on the driver shortage in general? What about improving ethnic diversity among drivers? What challenges would come with those efforts?