Can the Female Workforce Help Solve the Truck Driver Shortage?

The increase in popularity of online shopping has caused a surge in demand for road transportation services to move products between manufacturers, warehouses, fulfillment centers, and consumers.

However, a shortage of qualified truck drivers in the U.S. poses a significant challenge that can hinder market growth.

According to the North American Road Freight Transportation Market Forecast for 2024-2028, the average age of truck drivers in the U.S. today is 46, representing 25% of the industry’s workforce. An aging workforce is one factor contributing to the ongoing driver shortage. The others include low driver wages and a lack of interest in the trucking industry.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) – the largest and most comprehensive national trade association for the trucking industry – estimates the truck driver shortage is the most acute in the longer-haul for-hire truckload market. ATA research analyst Alan Karickhoff compiled a comprehensive report about the truck driver shortage and the many reasons why the industry continues to struggle to recruit new drivers.

To combat the driver shortage, trucking companies must be willing to get creative with their hiring practices to attract and retain recruits. A failure to pivot from the usual hiring bonuses and other incentives may worsen the problem, pushing the gap in eligible drivers from 97,000 to 162,000 by 2030.

Veterans and Woman Provide a Solution

Tapping into underused labor pools like veterans and women could be the tenable solution the trucking industry needs to address the driver shortage crisis. The ATA’s report confirms this possible solution, noting that trucking companies have historically struggled to attract all segments of the population, including women. Women make up nearly 47% of all U.S. workers. However, they only comprise 6.6% of all truck drivers.

Ruth Roble, an independent owner-operator, is among that small percentage of women. She switched careers from nursing to truck driving in 2015 in search of higher wages. Her earnings were capped as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). To earn more as a nurse, she needed to pursue a Registered Nurse (RN) license, which would have cost her around $20,000 for up to two additional years of education. “When my son started driving truck and showed me his first week of training pay, it was more than I made in two weeks as a nurse,” she said. “That was the tipping point for me.”

It cost Roble $4,000 and four months of training to become a qualified truck driver. She’s worked as an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver ever since.

She’s driven all but one state in the lower 48 and noted there are more women drivers out there now than when she first started. “I used to see other women maybe 2 to 3 times a day at truck stops when I was getting fuel and food. Now, I’ll see them 4 to 5 a day.”

Roble said she wasn’t surprised more women haven’t joined the ranks yet, noting the significant obstacles that prevent some from considering the trucking industry as a viable career option.

One of the barriers trucking companies must address before recruiting more women includes improving safety and security during training and operations, Roble said. Having more female trainers available would make women comfortable. Her first time out, Roble was required to get into a truck with a male trainer who made some inappropriate comments. “Every big company makes you go out there with a trainer to make sure you can handle a big rig,” she said. “Women would feel a lot safer joining this industry if there were more female trainers.”

Besides increasing access to female trainers, Roble said trucking companies must teach basic safety and security procedures from a woman’s perspective. Roble said she’s tolerated a lot of harassment on the road and has adjusted her routines to avoid certain situations. Sometimes she teams with her son on long-haul jobs, which always makes her feel more secure.

“As a woman, I learned very quickly that you don’t get out of the truck alone at night,” said Roble. “Male drivers typically don’t think about that because it’s not as much of a risk for them. Trucking companies need to teach women drivers different strategies right up front about safety to make them feel more secure.”

Jewel-Lynne Sanders agreed with Roble about not getting out of her truck late at night. As an OTR driver, she also has a list of “Do Not Stop” locations for drivers based on truck jackings and cargo theft at the listed truck stops. “These days, there’s more cargo theft, so you do have to be more vigilant than before,” she said.

Sanders began driving truck in January 2011 after she lost her job and was nearing the end of her unemployment. The industry seemed like a good career choice because her grandfather was a trucker for 40 years and she loved to drive. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in all my life.”

Although she sees more women on the road than she used to, Sanders said they are still in the minority in the industry. One of the ways she believes trucking companies could attract more women is by offering better wages.

Better Wages and Benefits Will Also Help Solve the Problem

“I know what I’m about to say is controversial, but I don’t think there’s a trucker shortage,” Sanders said. “The reason they can’t fill jobs is they don’t want to pay well. And that’s because freight isn’t paying as well as it used to.”

Global container freight rates peaked in 2021, bottoming out in late 2023. It remains in recession today. Her girlfriend, who also drives truck, recently was offered $1.40 per mile for an extended haul. “That’s basically the cost of your fuel,” Sanders said.

Companies that want to attract more qualified drivers – including women – must find ways to offer competitive wages, she said. “I just don’t feel like I’m getting paid what I deserve with 13 years of experience.”

2 thoughts on “Can the Female Workforce Help Solve the Truck Driver Shortage?”

  1. As 37 years of trucking have passed in my life on the road there is in my opinion no trucker shortage. There is a shortage of shippers willing to pay what it costs to move the freight. For my truck it costs me $1.87 per mile to move my truck to break even and make no cash for me left. Shippers may be paying brokers 5 or 6 dollars a mile but that is not getting passed down to the truck after they take their cut.

  2. I started driving in 1984. At the time there was still freight regulations which forced companies to pay a good rate. When deregulation happened rates started dropping and brokers really started up. This has always been a problem. There is no transparency with brokers. Never will be. Freight starts around $5.00 per mile but by the 3rd broker there is nothing left but fuel if you’re lucky. That’s just a start to the trucking problem.

    Now as far as driver shortage. It’s not a shortage. It’s a RETENTION PROBLEM. Companies that do pay respectfully and do have legitimate bonuses that really are obtainable and insurance you can use and afford and treat the drivers with respect do not have a very high turnover. They get it. Too many in this business have people in positions that can’t even find their way home when there’s a route problem. Let alone talking to a driver. All they know is the freight has to go no matter what. And drivers are too scared for their jobs to stand up and say NO it’s not safe. Wyoming in the dead old winter is a good example of not safe. Hundreds of crashes a year because some driver feared to say no. Not safe. When someone finually cracks down on the shippers and receivers to start respecting drivers at their facilities then the retention problem would change. Anywhere else you go – any other job has access to bathrooms, food other then vending machines, or can drive walk or whatever to. We are stuck for hours and nobody cares. Not there problem they say.

    So until there’s change from within the real problems there will always be a driver shortage. Why would anybody want to come out in the world and want to drive when you’re treated like crap.

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