What does the shortfall of truck drivers mean for the economy?

(BPT) – To truly understand the impact the trucking industry has on our economy, walk into any business, retail shop or grocery store and take a look around. Nearly everything you see was delivered there by a truck. In fact, according to the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Freight Transportation Forecast, 70 percent of all freight in the U.S. is handled by trucks. It is awe-inspiring to realize one industry has such an enormous impact on everything we do, purchase and consume in our everyday lives. Quite simply, trucks keep America moving, and without them, America stops.

Imagine going to your favorite grocery store to pick up your family’s dinner and seeing the shelves empty, or stopping by the corner hardware store for light bulbs only to find they’re not available. If it’s not during the aftermath of a weather disaster, we can’t readily imagine such a scenario happening in this country. That’s because 3.5 million professional drivers are always on the job, working day and night to make the deliveries that keep our economy humming.

But, it’s getting more and more difficult for the industry to keep up with demand. There’s a severe shortage of professional truck drivers on the road today, and it’s expected to get even worse. The ATA estimates that the industry will face a 175,000-driver shortfall by 2026. Ask any professional driver and they’ll tell you the same story: They get headhunting emails and calls from recruiters every day, and their own companies are so short-staffed they need to put in extra shifts just to cover all of the routes.

That’s why the ATA is partnering with Pilot Flying J, the largest network of travel centers in North America, to raise awareness of the profession, recruit new drivers, and celebrate the tremendous contributions of professional drivers to our nation’s economy.

It’s ironic that there’s a shortage in this profession, because those same drivers who remain committed to the industry and to keeping our economy moving will tell you how much they love the job.

“My father was a driver and as far back as I can remember, truck driving is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Steve Brand, a professional driver who has spent 27 years with FedEx Freight. Brand is a member of the ATA America’s Road Team, a national public outreach program of professional truck drivers who share superior driving skills and safety records. “Trucks move America forward and it’s a great feeling knowing I have a small part in that.”

Other benefits of being a driver?

* Independence. When you’re in a big rig, nobody is looking over your shoulder telling you how to do your job. It’s like being your own boss.

* Freedom. If an office job isn’t for you, trucking is a perfect choice. You’re out on the open road, and not tied to a desk.

* Flexibility. There isn’t just one kind of driving. Want to see the country driving from coast to coast? You can do that. Want to come home to your family every night? You can do that, too, and myriad options in between.

* Pay. ATA’s recent Driver Compensation Study found that the average salary for a truck driver ranges from $53,000 to $86,000 depending on the type of employer and type of equipment operated. Coupled with not having the crushing student debt that college graduates are carrying around, it makes for a very good living.

Opportunities. Since the industry is hurting for drivers, it’s a job seeker’s market out there. Recent grads from driving schools are in high demand, and can pick and choose the job that’s right for them.

Brand counsels potential recruits to choose a reputable school for proper training and then seek out a top-rated company, or find a company that has its own school.

“I go to bed happy and wake up happy knowing I’m making a difference,” he says.

Pilot Flying J is making a difference, too. As part of its partnership with the ATA, Pilot Flying J recently announced a $60,000 philanthropic gift to the ATA’s Trucking Cares Foundation to help support professional drivers and the future of the industry.

‘Hardworking professional drivers make many sacrifices to keep our economy moving and our ways of life possible,’ said Ken Parent, president of Pilot Flying J. ‘As we face a growing driver shortage, our hope is that this contribution will help support the Trucking Cares Foundation’s mission to improve the safety, security and sustainability of the trucking industry and contribute to the future growth of the industry through education and training.’

To learn more about becoming a professional driver, visit the ATA at www.trucking.org.

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