The trucking industry has been searching for ways to address the shortage of qualified drivers as demands of the job, regulatory compliance, and an increase in shipper needs have stretched the capacity of workers who are willing to take on the difficult workload that big-rig drivers face. One demographic, however, has been stepping up to fill the void and, according to some employers, its members are excelling at the job.
The number of women joining the ranks of truck drivers has increased steadily over the past few years. While women make up roughly six percent of all truck drivers in the United States, that number has increased from 4.6 percent since 2010, according to the American Trucking Associations. The National Tractor Trailer School website states that roughly 200,000 women currently have chosen trucking as their career. That welcomed change has come at a time when the industry is in desperate need of help.
Challenges in the Trucking Industry
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello pointed out challenges facing the trucking industry in a recent video posted on the ATA website (reposted below). While the improving economy and increased demands from shippers are encouraging for the industry, the shortage of available drivers, which Costello estimates at around 35,000 to 45,000, is causing a real capacity problem for trucking companies. There are multiple reasons for this shortage, including the higher median age of drivers, more job alternatives with better wages, difficulties in obtaining a CDL license, and regulations that reduce the productivity of drivers.
Better Work Conditions Attract Female Drivers
In an article from Bloomberg news, Derek Leathers, the Chief Operating Officer at Werner Enterprises Inc., said that safety at truckstops, the rise of automatic transmissions, and work benefits like guaranteed home time have gone a long way to enticing women to join the trucking workforce. Werner also says that women fare better in matters of inspection, compliance, and overall safety.
Though information regarding specifics on gender in trucking industry accidents isn’t noted on official government sites, general driving safety studies just might back up Leather’s assertion. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that men are more likely to engage in riskier driving behavior like speeding, not wearing safety belts, and driving under the influence. The IIHS also states that 71 percent of all crash deaths in 2013 were men and that 99 percent of all large-truck driver deaths were men.
While companies seek to fill availability, there are an increasing number of resources available to women who are interested in a trucking career. For example, the Women in Trucking Foundation is a non-profit organization that offers scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 per recipient. Winners of WITF scholarships are seeking to enter the trucking industry in some capacity, ranging from drivers to technicians to jobs dealing with trucking health issues.
The demand for qualified truck drivers will increase rapidly over the coming years and the opportunity is there for women who are drawn to the schedule flexibility, increasingly competitive wages, and a love for life on the road.