RIPPLE EFFECT: Ryan Carter of Scotlynn Group says the industry has never before seen anything like this, with a lack of drivers causing goods to pile up in ports.
With a national shortage in truck drivers causing delays and cost increases in supplies, Southwest Florida is experiencing the ripple effect—and searching for a solution.
By 2026, it’s estimated that the global tanker truck market will need 174,000 new truckers. Even today, there are nearly 63,000 vacant truck-driver jobs, and as more baby boomers retire, the industry is looking for ways to shrink the shortage by investing in education, apprenticeship programs and optimization of shipping routes so drivers spend less time on the road.
Alix Miller, the new president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, said that trucking became more difficult during the pandemic because of the demand and rush for specific materials such as antibacterial products and toilet paper, as well as the increase in at-home deliveries. The pandemic also helped push the aging driver base into early retirement or kept them off the road due to fear of the virus—or lack of facilities, since some states shut down rest areas, making it more challenging to drive and find a place to sleep the required 10 hours before getting back on the road. “Drivers are working harder than ever and more than ever, and we are seeing the impact on consumers when not enough trucks are on the road to replenish supplies,” Miller says. “The shortage in drivers has been an issue for the industry for years, but we are now really starting to see it, since there aren’t enough new drivers to take the place of those retiring.”
Miller said that companies are competing against one another to hire drivers, and she heard one company recently say that if they could hire 200 drivers today, they would and could. The pandemic caused panic-buying and an increase—in number and frequency—of at-home deliveries versus those that would normally be to an urban center or office, and the lack of drivers creates higher costs for hauling freight. It becomes a simple issue of supply and demand.
Ryan Carter, executive vice president of Fort Myers-based Scotlynn Group, which transports perishable freights on refrigerated trailers, said that due to the shortage in drivers, they are seeing 30%-100% increased costs for shipping lanes in the U.S. So, for example, if freight costs $4 per case to ship corn from the Scotlynn Sweet Pac Growers facility in Belle Glade, Florida, to Stop & Shop in Assonet, Massachusetts, the new cost will likely be $6 or $7 per case. “That does not sound like a lot, but it adds up big time when you examine the cost of all your groceries combined, and these increased transportation costs are almost always passed onto the consumer,” he explains.
Carter said that the lack of drivers is causing a stock of goods—especially building supplies coming from China—to pile up in the ports along the California coast. “We have never seen anything like this; there simply are not enough drivers to haul these containers out of the port, and it creates a massive ripple effect,” he says. “We are really seeing this firsthand when trying to fulfill the building demand here in Southwest Florida, since many of the construction projects are delayed due to a lack of imported supplies. This costs not just the owners of the project, but it is also a cost to the subcontractors when they are not able to work.”
Rendy Taylor, president of privately owned flatbed carrier Shelton Trucking and part of the Florida Trucking Association’s board of directors, says that recruiting and retaining drivers is especially hard in the summertime. “Flatbed trucking is probably one of the toughest driving jobs out there for a driver securing loads in 100-degree-plus weather,” says Taylor, who has been in the industry for 44 years. “We’ve experienced a lot of issues and have had to increase budgets or do more advertising and training of drivers to get them into the industry.”
The Florida Trucking Association has found that the average age of drivers is 55, and as more people retire, they’re trying to attract a younger—and broader—demographic by showing that professional truck driving can be a valuable and lucrative career. “In the U.S., 68% of all freight is moved by trucks, so it does impact the economy when we are short on drivers,” Taylor says. “We have to entice [the younger generation] in some way and show that trucking is a good career path—there’s a lot of independence out there.”