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Trucking companies getting creative to attract drivers to prepare for driver shortage

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- By the end of this year, the country is expected to be short more than 63,000 truck drivers and the shortage could get worse, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). 

"Trucks move America," Lisa Buhrow, truck-driver, said. "Pretty much everything you have has been on a truck at some point."

By 2026, they expect that number to rise to more than 174,000 drivers.

A driver shortage could mean empty store shelves, delayed deliveries, and increased prices.

"You might go to that grocery store and not have milk because it's sitting on a trailer waiting for that driver to come pick it up and make that delivery," Daniel Zdrojewski, MATC Truck Driving Instructor, said.

The ATA says aging truck drivers are contributing to the shortage.

"I think a lot of the drivers are retiring," Buhrow said. "They've been out here a long time."

The average truck driver is 49-years-old, so now companies are hoping to hire younger drivers.

"In order to cross state lines you have to be 21 years old so it's not easy for us for us to get into high schools and recruit for this occupation," Zdrojewski said.

Milwaukee Area Technical College's Truck Driving Program is feeling the effects of the shortage first-hand.

"In the fall we really took a hit," Zdrojewski said. "Our class was nowhere near full. We had to cancel a class because we couldn't get students into it."

He hopes breaking the truck-driver stereotype will help attract more drivers.

"The truck driver image has been a huge issue since the '80s and '90s," Zdrojewski said.

The ATA says in 2016 just 6% of truck drivers were women. Buhrow is one of them.

"Being only 5'2 they can't believe that someone this small can drive a truck," she said.

The truck-driver lifestyle also keeps some drivers at bay. Drivers can be on the road days, weeks, even months at a time.

"With being away from family and friends it's a huge responsibility, but it's also a very huge commitment," Buhrow said.

In 2020 mandatory training will be required for people looking to get their commercial driver’s license, which could also make it tougher for companies to find qualified drivers.

The ATA says right now 90,000 drivers would have to be hired every year for the next decade to make up for the shortage.

One factor turning truck drivers away is the pay. Many drivers getting paid per mile, so if the wheels aren't turning they aren't getting paid.

"If you're delayed at all by unloading and loading or stuck in traffic that counts as part of your day," Buhrow said.

New electronic logging devices required in every truck make it so as soon as you start driving you can't drive a mile more after your 14 hours are up. During those 14 hours, you can only be driving for 11 of them.

But, companies are now starting to make the miles count more.

A recent ATA report finds truck drivers are starting to get paid more.

The report says the median salary for a driver working a national route is more than $53,000.

That salary is up $7,000 from five years ago.

Dalor Transit in Franklin recently increased their pay.

"It seems to help," David Hughes, Dalor Transit President, said. "It's still an issue of what can I make to offset the time that I'm not going to be at home."

To try and make life easier on the road, some companies are now offering incentives like letting drivers bring their dogs, equipping their trucks with the latest gadgets and home-like features, and offering sign-on bonuses.

Dalor offers their drivers bonuses for driver and customer referrals.

"In the old days you'd put in ad in the paper looking for drivers and you'd get 20 people and you'd pick the best.," Hughes said. "Nowadays, more of the guys want to be home at night and they don't want to be gone overnight."

To try and keep drivers, Hughes says companies need to cater to the driver's needs and understanding the lifestyle demands.

"We just try to try to treat people like people, realize what's going on, and try to have an open ear to what their needs are," Hughes said.

In 2020, mandatory training will be required for people looking to get their commercial driver's license which could also make it tougher for companies to find qualified drivers. There is a federal bill that could help the driver shortage called the Drive Safe Act which would lower the driving age for truck drivers from 21 to 18. 

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