Building the Next Generation of Professional Truck Drivers

Trucking companies can start reaching younger audiences by making their presence known at high school and technical college career fairs, implementing training programs that target younger audiences.

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The need for professional truck drivers continues to grow despite the shortage of workers. In 2021, the shortage of truck drivers hit 80,000 and the demand for truck drivers is expected to double by 2030 if nothing changes within the industry. The American Trucking Association (ATA) also estimates that over the next decade, 1 million drivers will need to be recruited to replace the drivers expected to retire, leave voluntarily, leave involuntarily, and account for the number of drivers necessary to plan for industry growth.

Though the exact reason for the decline of truckers is yet to be determined, many attribute it to older drivers retiring, age limitations, lifestyle differences and infrastructure issues. The Covid-19 pandemic also created a decrease in drivers. The pandemic resulted in fewer newly trained drivers entering the workforce and caused experienced drivers to leave the industry entirely, fanning the flames of an already rapidly growing fire.

With that said, annual salary has increased roughly five times the historical average, making trucking a lucrative, higher-earning career option than previously recorded. Despite offering more competitive salaries and flexible scheduling, trucking companies continue to encounter growing challenges in recruiting the next generation of truckers. However, as Gen Z faces rising college and living expenses, it is becoming more imperative to create alternate pathways that provide career opportunities for the emerging workforce. At the same time, this push can help address and fill the critical workforce gaps within the trucking industry.

Highlighting the Career Potential for Gen Z

Tracking with historical patterns for recent generations, many rising Gen Z high school graduates are encouraged to pursue a traditional four-year institution to gain a higher education, as well as networking and internship opportunities in hopes of securing a stable, well-paying job after graduation. However, colleges are becoming less attainable to many graduating high school students due to rising costs. As of July 2023, Americans owed more than $1.77 trillion in student loan debt. Exposing future graduates to worthwhile, alternative career opportunities is paramount for the success of the next generation.

Due to the rising cost of college, there has been a spike in trade school enrollment in recent years from high schoolers hoping to take an alternative path. Trade schools and apprenticeships are typically more affordable post-high school education options due to a lower barrier to entry in cost and time. Trade schools typically offer two-year programs where students can gain certifications for a specific skill that is usually in high demand. Many high schools often allow upperclassmen to incorporate trade school or apprenticeships into their everyday curriculum, allowing them another avenue to get a jump start on their careers.

Building the Pathway

This new jump to trade school enrollment promises potential for students to explore new career opportunities, especially in the trucking industry. For students interested in a career on the road, there are several programs available to help them get their foot in the door. Nonprofit organizations such as Next Gen Trucking partner with high schools and technical colleges to launch training programs around America. These training programs prepare students by incorporating a curriculum that combines hands-on experience with digital learning formats.

Currently, 29 high schools in the U.S. offer Commercial Drivers License (CDL) programs. While these programs offer some high schoolers an advantage, there are still hundreds that lack programming involving professional driving.

Beyond the training required to become a professional driver, a common barrier for soon-to-be Gen Z graduates wanting to step into the trucking industry is their age. Though the minimum age requirement for a Class A CDL is 18, most trucking companies require their drivers to be at least 21, limiting access to many new graduates. Some programs are opening doors for this group of young drivers, such as The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, which allows drivers under the age of 21 to operate beyond state lines under the supervision of a more experienced driver. This program works as a type of apprenticeship for those looking for professional driving opportunities directly out of high school.

Looking Ahead

The trucking industry serves as the backbone of the country’s supply chain and is vital to ensuring the transportation of most essential goods. A lack of professional truck drivers could lead to shortages and disruptions in the supply chain, which, as a result, could slow the economy down tremendously.

The importance of the trucking industry is evident, and the reality is that college is becoming less attainable for everyone. These two factors combined create ample opportunity for Gen-Z to pursue careers in other industries, including professional driving. High schools and technical colleges would greatly benefit their students and industries like the trucking industry by implementing more training apprenticeship programs that serve as an alternate career path

Trucking companies can start reaching younger audiences by making their presence known at high school and technical college career fairs, implementing training programs that target younger audiences, and offering incentives that encourage the next generation to explore a career in this industry.