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Significant truck driver shortages weighing down supply chain

Dave Pfiffner with DMACC's Transportation Institute said many truck drivers are in their 50s, meaning more are retiring.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Having a hard time getting supplies like lumber, furniture or even a car part? Some are pointing the finger at the trucking industry. 

Dave Pfiffner with the Des Moines Area Community College Transportation Institute said there's a high turnover rate among drivers.

"There's been a structural shortage of drivers for quite some time now. But it was exacerbated by the pandemic," Pfiffner said. "We're still recovering from that." 

There's also a lot of products being shipped across the country but a limited number of drivers. 

"So the industry's been really trying to recruit, and, and hire new drivers at high rates, but it's it's very hard to find them at this point," Pfiffner said.

Pfiffner said there are "quite a few people" heading into the industry, but a lot of current drivers are close to getting out of it. 

"I think the average age of an over-the-road truck driver right now is something in the mid-50s. So it's a very gray fleet, as you might call, so there's a lot of people retiring," Pfiffner said. 

The industry has changed a lot over the last two decades. Over-the-road drivers, or those driving for two-to-three weeks at a time, are hard to come by. 

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"Right now, I can tell you that the job market is strong in all segments. So that would include local jobs, highly engineer jobs, maybe dedicated accounts regionalize fleets, and over-the-road, also," Pfiffner said. "So someone that's coming in new really has a lot of options that maybe weren't available in the past, due to the shortage and the crunch for labor. I mean, the industry is competing with every other industry for a limited labor pool."

Pfiffner said the shortage of drivers could last "for quite some time," but every bit of incentive helps to recruit new folks in. 

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