September 14-20 has been designated as 2014’s National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, to salute the more than three million professional truck drivers delivering America’s freight safely and securely, every day.

As a means of showing their support for America’s truck drivers and their families, Flagship Logistics Group is providing a Carrier Scholarship Program, which will provide for up to three $2,500 college scholarships for qualified students of employees at eligible carriers.

In the US, trucks deliver nearly 70 percent of freight transported annually. This amounts to $671 billion in manufactured and retail goods. There is another $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195 billion in trade with Mexico. Just about everything you use in your daily life was transported by truckers for your convenience. This week is the perfect time to acknowledge your appreciation for truck drivers, who are often on the road many miles from home and possibly missing out on big events like births, weddings or graduations.

National Truck Driver Appreciation Week will feature celebrations hosted by motor carriers, shippers and other trucking-related industries, as well as with events hosted by ATA, its state affiliates and America’s Road Team Captains.

This week also faces a crisis in the trucking industry as a continued shortage of drivers across the board, especially among long-haulers, continues to plague the industry. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry is about 30,000 short of qualified drivers. Over the next 10 years, that number is set to rise to 200,000.

The trucking industry, averages a 115-120% annual turnover rate, and also faces an aging problem. National figures show average age in the for-hire trucking market is about 49, and for less-than-truckload drivers (LTL) and private carriers the average rises to 55.

With the trucking industry handling 70 percent of all freight, the industry is a vital component to economic growth and as the economy continues to improve so will the demand, which is good news for the industry and the economy, but there aren’t enough drivers to keep up with the growth. Swift Transportation reported in its quarterly earnings release earlier this month that the overall driver market tightened more than anticipated.

While the shortage could cause prices on goods to increase, experts say it’s not likely it would be passed onto consumers. But it could cause major delays in delivery for certain products.

Initially, the recession provided a sense of security with the driver shortage. The demand for new, young drivers died down when the economy cooled off so no one was really feeling the shortage. But, now the shortage is indicative of an underlying generational trend.

Experts cite other job alternatives that don’t require being away from home for long stretches, the age requirement (23), cumbersome regulations and the demanding work schedule for fueling the shortage.

While there is some movement to get insurance companies to provide training standards to get younger drivers behind the wheel, you currently must be 23 or older to drive interstate. Industry veteran Wayne Carmoody wonders why “we let them go into combat and go over and face the enemy on the ground or fly a plane, maybe they are mature enough to drive a truck.”

Private enterprise has taken the initiative. Peter Latta, chairman and chief executive officer at regional truck driving company, A. Duie Pyle, started an in-house training academy in 2003 to help manage their turn-over rate. The eight-week academy is open to the company’s full-time employees who are interested in getting their commercial driver’s license. The company picks up the entire cost of the program, including meals and lodging, at about $20,000 per student, and has graduated more than 150 drivers.

The industry also has an image problem, says Carmoody. “We get publicity on the bad things and not on the good things. The image of trucking a lot of people have is when the truck went into the back of Tray Morgan’s limo.”

Compensation has also been an issue when it comes to recruitment and retainment. On average, drivers make somewhere between 6-8 percent less than they did in 1990, while the hours have increased, with some drivers working 70 hours a week. This problem is being addressed with more fleets increasing pay in the 10% to 15% range.

To deal with the shortage, the industry and shippers are getting creative to help lessen drivers’ time on the road. A few companies are having drivers meet halfway during long hauls to switch off. Meaning the drivers get home sooner, with less time away from their families.

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