By Megan R. Nichols

Trucking and freight companies keep the country running — literally. More than 70 percent of the country’s freight gets moved by trucks. The industry is also facing one of the most significant worker shortages in recent memory. Career truckers are reaching retirement age, and there aren’t enough new drivers coming into the industry to replace them. Are millennials the answer to the growing driver shortage?

The Growing Driver Shortage

The trucking industry is expected to have a shortfall of over 100,000 drivers by 2022. Currently, there are more than 50,000 open trucking positions with no one to fill them. Why is the trucking industry facing such a talent shortage?

Part of it has to do with age and gender demographics. Trucking is currently dominated by older men — of the current CDL holders in the United States, 94 percent of them are men, and the average age of a truck driver is around 49 years.

The job itself also presents some problems. While it can be a lucrative career for experienced drivers, it’s a challenging field to break into. The hours are also long and incredibly varied — even if a driver by law can only drive for 11 hours before they have to stop for a mandatory break, they’re still often far away from home for days at a time. This presents a problem for younger generations who are often very focused on creating a healthy work/life balance. That balance is nearly impossible if you’re away from home for the majority of the week.

The sometimes lucrative salary we mentioned can also present a problem. Most drivers get paid by the mile, meaning if there aren’t any deliveries to be made, their paychecks will suffer. Younger generations prefer income stability — they’d rather choose an hourly position with less take-home pay than take a job where they may have weeks where they don’t have any income at all.

The Largest Generation Could Fix the Problem

Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, are already the largest generation in today’s workforce, making up more than 35 percent of the working population. They’re quickly on track to become the largest generation, period and are expected to outnumber Baby Boomers, the previous title holder for the largest generation, by 2019.

This could prove to be a boon for the trucking industry. If they can entice enough millennials to seek employment as a truck driver, that is. How can trucking companies attract younger drivers to take those first steps into the industry?

Offer Better or Guaranteed Pay

It’s difficult to entice millennials to become truck drivers if you can’t guarantee they will receive a steady paycheck for all the hard work that they have done. Offering a guaranteed paycheck — one that can get supplemented with by-the-mile pay if the driver exceeds the base mileage requirement — is one way to ensure your drivers will bring home a paycheck even during lean months, and encourage more millennials to seek out work in the field.

This might seem counter-intuitive since the goal is to improve the bottom line instead of deflating it with additional payroll costs, but there are other ways to cut fleet costs while still encouraging new drivers to enter the industry.

Focus on a Work/Life Balance

It often feels challenging to establish a healthy work/life balance when working as a truck driver. The hours are long and change nearly every week, and you spend so much time on the road that it can feel strange to come back for a day or two only to head out again as soon as the short reprieve ends.

Even if it’s not possible to change the strange hours entirely, offering more flexibility when it comes to working days and hours can make the position more appealing to millennial drivers.

Improve Benefits

Millennials are turning down even high paying jobs that don’t offer comprehensive benefits — and that means more than just providing health insurance or sick days. Full benefits include everything from maternity or paternity leave to fitness incentives that can encourage your drivers to stay healthy even when they’re on the road for 11 hours at a time.

Strive for Diversity

The trucking industry is facing a diversity crisis in addition to a driver shortage. More than 66 percent of drivers currently on the road are white men. Only six percent of these drivers are female. Companies can bring in younger drivers by striving for more diversity in the workplace.

Millennials are focused on creating a culture of diversity, and since they will likely make up 75 percent of the workforce in the next decade, it’s essential to cater to this.

Make Changes Today

Millennials will turn into the largest working generation within the next ten years. If trucking companies can make a few changes, they could end the driver shortage and find a surplus of new drivers while still running a profitable business.

Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She regularly contributes to sites like Industry Today, Born2Invest, and Business Process Incubator. Follow Megan on Twitter @nicholsrmegan and subscribe to her blog to stay in touch.

Trucking stock photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock