Being a truck driver isn't the draw it used to be.
At Excel Driver Services, they're grinding gears trying to figure out how to get more people behind the wheel of big rigs.
“It's a big issue,” Excel owner Jason Emery said. “You've seen companies go out of business because they can't support growth because they can't get safe drivers to operate their equipment.”
Emery says America has a major shortage of licensed truck drivers and the numbers support him.
According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry was short more than 60,000 drivers in 2018 – that's almost a 20 percent increase from the year before. The ATA also reports a need to hire more than a million new drivers over the next decade to keep up with growing transportation demands.
“There's a huge need for qualified truck drivers right now,” Emery said. “Every company in this town is looking for drivers right now.”
Emery says the major reason for the decline is that many drivers are getting older and retiring. Now the industry is trying to attract younger drivers, people like Shelby Stennett – who is changing careers from a frack hand in the oil fields to a truck driver on the interstates.
“As far as career-wise making that extra money and put that money in my pocket,” he said. “Being able to provide for myself and my family and my friends. It's important to me because I got to eat. I got to eat to survive.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the starting pay for a truck driver is $44,000 per year. After a few years on the road, however, the ATA says drivers can easily make six figures driving an 18-wheeler.
Despite the pay, this job isn't for everyone. Drivers can spend weeks on the road alone and sleep in their rigs.
Now economists say fewer truck drivers on the road could end up costing you a lot more money.
“For the last several years we've gotten used to free shipping and one-day shipping and give it to me right now,” said Christina Huber, Ph.D. a professor of economics at Metropolitan State University Denver. “Maybe that can't continue.”
Huber says with more online shopping and fewer drivers to transport the goods, shipping costs could skyrocket.
“If they're having trouble attracting drivers to the industry the only way to alleviate that shortage is to make it more attractive for them to enter,” she said.
To attract more drivers, many companies are increasing pay.
Excel is now using new technology train a new generation of drivers.
“What we decided to do a couple years ago is to purchase a simulator company,” Emery said. “Now we're building our own system to change and evolve how we train drivers.”
Evolving to get more drivers to live life on the open road and keep on truckin'.