The American Trucking Association estimates that trucking companies are short by as much as 45,000 drivers. In light of this shortage, pressure has been mounting on carriers to reach out to untapped workforce pools in order to close the gap and keep supply chains moving. If the trend continues, the ATA predicts the industry could fall short by 174,000 drivers by 2026. Now, trucking and logistics companies are trying to recruit more women to overcome growing driver shortages. Why are there so few women in the business to begin with, and what needs to change for there to be more?
The scarcity of truckers in the United States is no new phenomenon. After cutting tens of thousands of jobs during the Great Recession, trucking companies failed to garner the kind of workforce they had previously known. They’ve since been struggling to meet increasing demand for freight transport. Over 70 percent of consumer goods rely on transportation via highways to reach store shelves. The resulting bottleneck means that carriers are often forced to refuse hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of truckload shipments each day, resulting in product shortages, shipment delays, and higher prices.
A promising solution lies in workforce demographics — while women comprise 47% of the US workforce, they account for only 6% of commercial truck drivers. This figure can, in part, be attributed to the fact that the male-dominated trucking industry has not always been receptive to the prospect of women in its ranks. A prevalence of sexism and harassment has acted as a major deterrent against female recruits, but many in the industry are optimistic that the tide is beginning to turn as carriers are now strategizing ways to encourage women to join their teams.
Some companies are hoping to attract more women by upgrading their fleets with new and improved models. Truckload carrier Schneider, for example, plans on implementing fleet-wide automatic transmissions by 2019. In 2015, commercial fleet management company Ryder announced the release of a "female-friendly vehicle package" consisting of features such as "ergonomically designed seats and adjustable armrests, adjustable seat belt shoulder straps, and automated transmissions."
Other efforts have concentrated on creating a healthier work environment for women. Women In Trucking (WIT), a non-profit organization founded in 2007, encourages the employment of women in the trucking industry by partnering with carriers to minimize the obstacles faced and by creating realistic expectations of what the job entails. WIT also offers mentorship programs and online forums which provide a sense of community in a field traditionally associated with men.
"I would venture to say that if we could double the percentage of women working in the trucking industry, we could solve the immediate qualified driver shortage," says Elle Voie, president of Women in Trucking.
At the same time, adding women to the ranks should not be regarded as a silver bullet. Many of the challenges facing recruiting efforts transcend gender lines. Some blame stagnant wages and government regulation for the dearth of truck drivers, while many others point to an aging workforce and reluctance among millenials to consider trucking as a viable career path.
Life on the road is tough; truckers are often required to be away from home for days, even weeks at a time, and face long hours without access to creature comforts. The lifestyle associated with the vocation has led many to erroneously consider trucking to be a man's job, a sentiment that in the past has contributed to high turnover rates and discriminatory hiring practices. However, new federal regulations which will make it easier to enforce limits on drivers’ time behind the wheel might also help attract men and women weary of rough conditions.
Although it can take as little as a few weeks to obtain a commercial class A license, obstacles occur in the training phase, where many women have experienced both condescension and hostility from their male counterparts. As a result, many female trainees have requested female trainers, further slowing the rate at which new drivers are getting on the road.
It is also worth noting that the gender pay gap which plagues many other industries does not directly affect the trucking industry, given that drivers are paid by the mile or the load. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is about $41,340 per year. The median annual wage for a truck driver working for a private fleet (under large companies like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola) is significantly higher, at $73,000.
On top of base salary, many carriers have elected to offer their employees incentives such as signing bonuses and tuition reimbursement programs. However, incentive programs can only go so far, as they can be burdensome for companies' bottom lines. Trucking fleets are now charging higher prices to haul goods across the country, and it still remains to be seen as to whether this increase will be accompanied by a corresponding rise in wages.
Business is booming for trucking companies that are now struggling to recruit more drivers and capitalize on the rising influx of new business. While advances in technology such as autonomous trucking and route optimization will help reduce the labor gap, a willingness to let go of preconceived notions of what a trucker should look like will be the first step in solving the driver shortage problem.