America needs more professional drivers.  The American Trucking Association estimates the current industry shortage to be 80,000 drivers, and expects it to double by 2030, further undermining the profession’s stability and the U.S. supply chain. Americans also recognize the importance of this workforce, as 96% of us say that truck drivers are essential to the economy.

This shortage comes amid increasing demand for freight, backlogs in licensing and training and an aging workforce. While the average age of new drivers is 35, the average age of all drivers is 47, which means the rate of incoming recruits is not high enough to offset coming retirees. 

The American Transportation Research Institute proposed the following strategies:

1. Enact legislation to lower the eligible age for commercial driver’s licenses from 21 to 18

2. Engage high school students by adding truck driving electives and apprenticeships, and focus recruitment on graduating seniors

3. Expand work visas for qualified drivers from other countries

These are thoughtful and pragmatic solutions which can be supplemented in additional ways.

Here are four ways fleets can attract – and keep – younger drivers.

Enhance female recruitment efforts

Women account for 47% of the U.S. workforce but only 6% of truck drivers. Transportation companies should lean into cultural trends that highlight diversity in hiring, reward ambition, and training and advancement opportunities for the under-represented female workforce.  

Transportation firms can further reduce female hiring friction by actively supporting organizations and efforts that provide gender-specific resources and skills development. Women in Trucking, a non-profit association, provides mentorship and safety training resources for women in the industry, in addition to encouraging their employment, promoting their accomplishments, and addressing unique obstacles women face in the field.

Ensuring women are visible, involved in key committees and initiatives, have a path to leadership roles, and are provided networking opportunities to build a community are all critical for attracting more females into your workforce.

Look to the U.S. military

Many discharged veterans are already experienced truck drivers, offering employers an express hiring route. That’s because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration permits states to offer a military skills test waiver for CDL applicants, making a written exam the only requirement.

In addition, the trucking industry can take hiring cues from the U.S. military, which shifted its recruitment messaging to attract younger talent and stem attrition.

The “Know Your Army” campaign highlights benefits that compete with private companies. While some cannot be easily countered in the private sector — such as VA loans for home ownership — others can be incorporated. These include 30 days of paid annual vacation, pensions after 20 years of service, paid parental leave, choice of locale, education benefits and signing bonuses. The military also now highlights shorter enlistment periods, which means the potential for attracting veterans in their mid-to-late 20’s is more likely, further increasing the longevity of this workforce overall.

Promote technocultural changes

Demonstrate that trucking is not obsolete but rather uses pioneering technology to enhance the driving experience. A high-tech in-cab experience should be provided and promoted, as well as other technology-related trends which improve the commercial driving experience.

Gamification in particular provides an unexpected approach to recruitment. In 2022, a TechJury study showed 60% of Americans play video games daily, and 70% of gamers are 18 or older. Notably, 45% of U.S. gamers are women. Technology and gaming are ingrained in the Gen Z and millennial culture, and fleet managers can use them to improve recruitment and the driving experience.

Gaming is, by design, psychologically addictive and competitive, which motivates and engages employees. The wellness industry successfully monetized rewards for practicing healthy behaviors. Fitness app challenges, health insurance discounts, or competing against strangers to quit smoking all capitalize on competition.

Create competitions for achieving the best fuel economy, avoiding accidents, or celebrating the best on-time records. Vehicle technology that monitors and coaches safe driving behaviors or tracks drivers’ scores brings to life the popular “American Truck Simulator” reward system.

Rebrand the trucker lifestyle

A trucker lifestyle is rooted in independence, flexibility, stability and security. Amid high inflation and a potential recession, advertising the practical reality of commercial driving as a career is straightforward. However, enticing a new pool of drivers requires more.

According to Gallup, the younger demographics aren’t just working for a paycheck and security. They are interested in purpose, development, coaching and a job as an extension of their lives and personal values. The industry should consider a rebrand that focuses on truck driving as service-oriented, helping others by bringing them life’s necessities — from life-saving medicines to the creature comforts of home.

What’s the takeaway?

Solving the driver shortage remains one of the trucking industry’s biggest challenges in 2023, so the industry must put focus on attracting a new generation of drivers. There’s no shortage of opportunity, but it requires embracing technology and evangelizing the long-term opportunities of a given career. Consider updating promotional materials to feature young adults of diverse genders and ethnicities in your advertisements and brochures. Build programs that support career development and job satisfaction. If your strategy is just the phrase “1-800 we’re hiring” on the back of trailers, that’s an opportunity missed.