The long-haul segment of the trucking industry has a national shortage of 20,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Assns.’ (ATA) new report, called U.S. Truck Driver Shortage: Analysis and Forecasts. It predicts that in this segment, the driver shortage will expand to 111,000 by 2014 given current demographic trends.

The problem is exacerbated by the high turnover rate within this group as well, with large truckload carriers reporting an annual average of 121% turnover last year. Long-haul truck drivers represent 1.3 million of the 3.4 million truck drivers and represent the tightest pool of drivers.

Adam Mertz, senior manager of transportation workforce solutions for hiring and screening service provider Unicru, said one key to tackling turnover is taking the time to make sure that the potential driver is a good fit with the company and the job, instead of simply “getting bodies into truck.”

“A good way is to start out by identifying people that are going to be the right fit,” Mertz told Fleet Owner. “For example, if you’re working on a project— you could do it quick and get it done. But if you do it quick, you usually have to redo it.”

According to Green Bay, WI-based truckload carrier Schneider National, the trucking industry as a whole experienced a driver shortage of 195,000 in the first quarter of 2005.

“The driver shortage today is absolutely more pronounced than it has been historically,” Tom Nightingale, vp—corporate marketing told Fleet Owner. “This is the result of high freight demand, the demographic shift not favorable for the industry, and factors such as hours-of-service changes that makes it harder to find people to do the job— and many companies aren’t getting the miles they used to.”

To replace retiring long-haul drivers and to accommodate economic growth, about 54,000 new drivers will be needed annually over the next decade, according to the ATA study. However, current demographic trends would continue to grow a supply of new long-haul drivers at an annual rate of 1.6%, or about 22,000 annually over the next decade. This would represent a widening shortfall of long-haul drivers by 32,000.

However, economic growth will generate a need for a 2.2% annual growth in the pool, or 320,000 new jobs over the decade. But an additional 219,000 drivers will be needed to replace drivers currently 55 or older who will retire over that period.

Economic consulting firm Global Insight, which prepared the report for ATA, predicts that the projected driver shortages will drive up wages for long-haul truckers over the next three years by 6- to 7% annually.

In terms of minority shares of the truck driver workforce, women have been relatively stagnant as from 1994 to 2002 they’ve been in the 4- to 5% range. Meanwhile African Americans and Hispanic Americans account for a larger slice of the pie over the same period, with African Americans being just above 11.7% of the long-haul driver workforce while Hispanic Americans being 9.7%.

ATA stressed that the trucking industry will have to redouble its efforts to recruit women and minorities to address the shortage.

“The big threat to the potential supply of truck drivers over the next 10 years is that the number of males age 35-44 [who account for many new drivers] will fall by 6.5% over this period,” stated the ATA report. “When we narrow the focus to white makes in these age groups, the demographic trends are found to be even more adverse [declining 17.7%]. Much of the population growth that is projected to occur among middle-age males will be in the Hispanic and other minority populations.”

Unicru’s Mertz, said the trucking industry is starting to get the word out to minorities.

“It’s a grassroots type of effort since there’s a few companies that do that— I’d say less than 10% of the companies that do even a mediocre job in reaching out to the minority groups,” Mertz said. “A large group that’s being overlooked is actually the younger generation. One thing I feel is from a screening standpoint, many of companies don’t promote themselves as being technology savvy. There’s a perception out there that trucking is an unskilled profession, which isn’t true.”

Schneider’s Nightingale said the carrier has been making targeted efforts to recruitfrom specific communities. “We have stepped up our efforts in the mature labor market and the Latino labor market. And that means staffing our call centers with Spanish-speaking professionals, offering driving curricula in Spanish and catering to the lifestyles and needs of different demographics.

“In the team driving sector we’ve been doing very well,” Nightingale continued. “Oftentimes our drivers would travel with their significant other-- they are an example of drivers pulled from the mature labor market.”