Truck driver shortage looms as industry frets over lack of younger applicants

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The trucking industry has been losing their over-the-road drivers, causing many companies to increase their wages to keep drivers employed, while others look to the younger demographic to take up the mantle.

Over-the-road truck drivers are on the road for hours at a time, driving up to 10 hours each day. That takes them away from their home and family, which is a constant concern for those in the industry.

Jonathan Howell, a freight broker at Meiborg — a Rockford trucking company — says his company has been dealing with a truck driver shortage for three years now. He says they’re currently 5 to 10 drivers short of being fully staffed.

“I would say that it is going to increase, mainly due to the “Amazon Effect” and UPS,” Howell said. “More drivers are looking for those jobs because it gets them home every night.”

The shortage has been increasing nationwide. In 2016, the industry was short more than 36,000 drivers, according to the American Truck Association. The agency says that number could increase to a shortage of 174,000 jobs by 2026.

The average age of over-the-road drivers has gone up, resulting on many truck drivers being on the edge of retirement.

“They’re at that final stage. They want to be able to close the door and finish out their careers, strong,” Howell said.

Mark Sandoval has been coordinator of the Rock Valley College Truck Driver Training Program since its inception in 2007. 

He has always told his students to go for over-the-road driving positions, as he feels it’s a better experience, with less stress, than local driving jobs that stay in-state.

“Local is very demanding,” Sandoval said. “For a new driver that does not have that base of experience, it can be a bad experience for them.”

With the RVC program, Sandoval believes he will be able to give quality truck driving training to area college-aged students so that they can fill empty roles that plague the trucking industry.

“If they can get through the first three months, then the next plateau would be a year. Then, after they have a year’s worth of experience, [then] they either like the company they’re with or, if they’re looking for something else, that’s the time to start looking.”

Many companies, including Meiborg, have also been working to keep the over-the-road drivers as close to home as they can, allowing them to see their families and make the job a little more manageable.

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