While many U.S. industries are in need of employees, one of the most desperate needs are for truck drivers — both independent and company employed drivers. According to the American Trucking Association the shortage-problem is most acute in the long-haul trucking sector, where nearly 600,000 drivers are currently employed and 60,000 more drivers are needed.

Young workers, meanwhile, are hesitant to take on the long hours, weeks away from home, solitude and other hardships of long-haul trucking. That’s even though the training period is short, and pay can range from $50,000 to $100,000, or more.

In a recent Marketplace story, Portland-based driver Petru Strugari, 61, said trucking has provided a steady living for his family but it hasn’t been easy. Strugari learned truck-driving in the Romanian army, and took up commercial driving after immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1980s and being laid off from a machine shop.

“You make money because you work a lot of hours, but it’s not paid enough,” said Strugari. “The food is expensive, you sleep in the truck, you’re gone for two weeks. If you have a family, it’s tough. My wife was complaining all the time. ‘Don’t you want to come home?’ I told her they don’t bring me home. They want the truck running all the time.”

Lately, trucking companies have been hiking wages to boost hiring and retention.

According to Glassdoor, truckers’ median base-pay increased 5.1 percent in the past year to $55,435. Trucker wages start higher and are rising faster, than many other blue-collar occupations.

“Trucking began to experience a shortage of drivers in the mid-1980s,” according to economist Michael Belzer at Wayne State University. “What you have is a shortage of compensation and intensification of working conditions. And the job is not attractive enough to draw people into the industry to stay.”

Pay isn’t the only obstacle to attracting drivers. Some potential drivers think self-driving trucks could radically change long-haul trucking. Several major truck manufacturers are working on self-driving or “autonomous” trucks.

While such trucks are not yet predicted to do away with the driver shortage soon, they could change industry logistics over “the long haul.” And most experts predict specialized usage of autonomous trucks, not a complete replacement of today’s 18-wheeler.


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