Truck Drivers Are in for Long-Haul of Demand

by Felicia Bechtoldt

December 28, 2016

About 70 percent of all freight transported in the U.S. in 2015 was delivered by trucks. This equates to almost 10.5 billion tons of cargo, from healthcare supplies and groceries to gasoline and mail. To move billions of tons of cargo annually requires nearly three million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks, over 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel, and 3.5 million truck drivers according to the American Trucking Association. In more isolated and rural areas, trucks are often the only delivery source for consumer goods. More than 80 percent of all communities rely solely on these vehicles to transport commodities in and out of town.

Trucking accounted for 42 percent of the ton-miles (excluding shipments made by truck and rail, and truck and water) in 2012 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Commodity Flow Survey, showing that there is a significant difference between total freight delivery and total distance each ton is transported. A ton-mile is a unit of freight transportation equivalent to a ton of freight moved one mile.

Consumers and businesses alike turn to heavy and tractor-trailer trucks to supply and deliver their products. As the economy recovers and household spending rises, the need for truck drivers will grow. In Oregon and the U.S., we are seeing demand for these workers increase as everything from job boards to employer surveys reveal that truck drivers are highly sought after.

Covering the Basics, From Training to Employment

Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are interstate transporters, hauling freight of 26,000 pounds or more. Typically, long-haul drivers plan their own routes based on their final destination and delivery deadline. But the job isn’t as simple as getting from point A to point B. Drivers need to carefully plan routes that allow for large trucks, keep detailed records of their mileage, schedules, and inspections, and make sure they maintain compliance with state and federal commercial vehicle regulations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that interstate drivers work no more than 14 hours per day, with a maximum of 11 hours of driving. In addition to working long hours, truck drivers often work nights, holidays, and weekends and face long hours, boredom, and fatigue. However, there are also a number of advantages to being a truck driver: flexible work schedules, decent wages, and job security, to name a few.
Prospective truck drivers usually start their career with courses at a technical or vocational school to prepare for getting their Commercial Driver License (CDL), though some employers may offer their own training programs, or provide funding for other programs. Oregon currently has 10 training providers, several of which have multiple locations across the state. In 2014, 462 students graduated from trucking programs in Oregon.

Training programs usually require at a minimum that applicants be 18 years of age, hold a current driver’s license, pass an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) physical test and drug screening, and submit proof of an acceptable driving record. To drive commercial vehicles across state lines, drivers must be at least 21 years old.

Many of these schools offer night and weekend classes. A typical curriculum will cover safety, logistics, state and federal regulations, basic driving skills, customer service, and vehicle and freight inspection, among other subjects. Training time is divided between the classroom and open-road instruction. Many schools offer between 150 and 200 hours, usually during the course of one month. Some trucking programs’ tuition covers the cost of an ODOT driving permit, skills and knowledge tests, and other fees related to CDL licensure. For a complete listing of CDL requirements, visit the Oregon DMV’s website.

After getting a CDL, entry-level truck drivers can decide between two main types of employment. Owner-operator truck drivers own or lease their own vehicles through a trucking company and transport that company’s freight, or they work with other companies as independent contractors. The second option is to work as an employee of a trucking company, as a company driver. Recent graduates are usually able to find work, but some employers may request that applicants have at least six months to one year of on-the-road experience.

Once employed, truck drivers can expect to earn median wages of $19.96 per hour. Since truck drivers often work long hours and are usually compensated by the mile or on a per-haul basis, this figure may vary according to each individual’s workload and schedule.

Most Job Openings in the Foreseeable Future

In 2014, there were 23,686 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers employed in Oregon. About 8.3 percent (1,813) of truck drivers were self-employed. In the U.S., nearly 2 million were employed as heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, of which 137,600 were self-employed.

In Oregon, this occupation is expected to have an average of 690 openings per year from 2014 to 2024, which is much higher than the average number of statewide openings (23) across all occupations. This qualifies truck drivers as a high-wage, high-demand occupation. In fact, truck drivers were the third high-wage, high-demand occupation in Oregon behind registered nurses and general and operations managers.

An aging workforce is often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing the trucking industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age for truck drivers and driver/sales workers in the U.S. is 46.4. With so many workers nearing retirement age, employers will need to replace workers, as well as hire workers to fill the increasing number of trucking jobs. Oregon Employment Department’s occupational projections show that employment growth for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers over the next decade has more replacement openings (4,029) than growth openings (2,869). Replacement openings occur when workers leave their jobs due to retirements or other reasons. Growth openings are jobs available due to new job creation.
Shortage of Truck Drivers

Data produced and gathered by the Oregon Employment Department suggests that there is a shortage of truck drivers in Oregon, and that truck driver vacancies are difficult to fill.   

The Oregon Employment Department’s Job Vacancy Survey indicates a high level of difficult-to-fill job vacancies for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. In 2015, 335 occupations had vacancies in Oregon, and just six of those occupations had more than 1,000 vacancies. Truck drivers had the highest number of job vacancies (2,227). The survey also asked employers which occupations were the most difficult to fill. Truck drivers were once again number one on the list, with 87 percent of vacancies being listed as difficult to fill.

Truck drivers are continuously one of the most frequently posted jobs on the internet. The Conference Board’s Help Wanted Online data series measure job ad volume across all occupations. In 2015, there were an average of 2,965 job ads posted each month in Oregon for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, which was one of the highest among all occupations. In October, November, and December of 2016, truck drivers ranked second on the number of job ads behind registered nurses.

Fueling Up for the Long Road Ahead

Driving heavy and tractor-trailer trucks is hard work, but it offers decent pay and a number of other benefits. Training programs usually prepare entry-level drivers for employment in as little as one month (at minimum), providing the trucking industry with a much-needed supply of workers in a reasonable time period.

Despite the number of available jobs and a low unemployment rate, the trucking industry continues to experience a shortage of workers. Oregon’s truck driver shortage is currently being addressed by groups like Trucking Solutions Consortium (TSC) and Oregon Trucking Association through new workforce development initiatives and training programs, which are driven by the growing need for these workers. The challenges presented by a near-retirement-age workforce are being compounded by the hiring difficulties faced by many trucking companies, making it clear that the demand for drivers will remain high for some time to come.

Read our latest article about truck transportation industry in Oregon written by Regional Economist Dallas Fridley.

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