Truck Driver Demand Hits Highest Gear Yet

by Jana Ritter - Published: 8/08/2013

The competition for truck drivers has increased significantly over the last few years and still, trucking companies in Michigan and across the US are even more aggressively pursuing new drivers as the industry struggles with high turnover rates, tighter driving regulations and increased demand to ship cargo.


Not only are the majority of companies are spending more money on hiring and advertising than ever before, one Metro Detroit company has even started its own driving school to find and prepare workers for long hauls on the road.

With a national turnover rate above 90 percent, an abundance of drivers reaching retirement age and a law enacted this summer limiting the amount of time on the road to just 70 hours a week (down from 82), companies are scrambling to hire.“All these pressures come together and you have the perfect storm,” said Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Trucking Association, which represents trucking companies throughout the state.

The American Trucking Association estimates a nationwide shortage of 25,000 truck drivers, a number that could balloon to 240,000 by 2020 at the current pace. The number of people working in truck-related jobs nationwide has dropped to 6.9 million in 2011 from 7.6 million a decade before. The shortage affects carriers and drivers across the U.S.

Bob Costello, a chief economist with the American Trucking Association, said the driver shortage began after 2009 and is a multifaceted problem. Compounding the problems is growing national demand to ship more goods by truck, according to the Department of Transportation. “We're starting to move more freight, we're putting more trucks on the road but there are more alternatives for those looking at trucking,” he said. “I don't see it going away.”

“It's a problem for all of us,” said Bob Sellers, general manager of Reliable Carriers. “I don't think it will get easier; it's only going to get more challenging.” Many carriers cope in different ways. While Reliable Carriers are hiring and advertising much more aggressively, Con-Way freight, which has 21,000 employees, saw the problem coming in 2010, and decided that if it couldn't find drivers, it would train its own.

The company started its first driver training school in Romulus, and has since added about 100 training centers across the country. The 12-week course is free to Con-Way employees who work on the dock loading and unloading freight. Upon graduating, workers are guaranteed a driving job with the company, and drivers make between $45,000 to $55,000 a year.

“We're going to have to be more aggressive in keeping the pipeline full of quality (drivers),” Sellers said. “We need to find innovative ways to tap into the resources, wherever they are.”