By John Egan
The U.S. trucking industry is barreling down the road toward an alarming shortage of drivers.
In an October 2022 report, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimated the industry was weighed down by a shortage of 78,000 drivers. That’s an improvement from the shortage of more than 81,000 in 2021, but it’s still far from ideal. In fact, the trade group forecasts the shortage of truckers could surpass 160,000 in 2031.
In large part, the trucker shortage stems from an aging workforce. The average age of an over-the-road trucker in the U.S. is 46, which is above the typical age of all full-time workers. The average retirement age of a trucker: 62.
The trucking sector isn’t alone, though, in confronting a shortage of workers due to aging workforces. As a recent Associated Press article reported, a “wave of retirements” is leaving a number of U.S. industries desperate to fill jobs.
So, what are HR professionals, hiring managers and others in these industries doing to fill jobs being vacated by newly minted retirees?
Building Up the Trucking and Construction Workforces
The ATA is tackling the labor shortage on several fronts. For instance, the group is rolling out a mentorship program to encourage women to join the transportation business. Among those invited to be mentors are HR professionals, drivers, dispatchers and executives. Nearly 14 percent of professional drivers are women, according to the Women in Trucking Association.
“Trucking has an aging workforce that well-exceeds the national average. Over the next decade, the industry will need to hire roughly 1.2 million new drivers to keep pace with retirements and growing freight demand,” according to the ATA.
The construction industry is suffering labor pains similar to those of the trucking industry.
“We’ve got a lot more people retiring than coming into the industry. We appreciate that that’s not unique to construction,” said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a trade group for the construction industry.
In a 2022 survey from AGC and software company Autodesk, 93 percent of construction companies reported they had open positions. Among those companies, 91 percent ran into trouble filling at least some jobs.
The survey indicates construction companies are ramping up efforts to address the industry labor shortage. Over half (51 percent) of those questioned in the survey report they’re connecting with career-building programs at schools. In addition, they’re sinking more money into training and professional development (41 percent), online and video training (25 percent), and augmented reality/virtual reality training (16 percent).
Moreover, many construction companies are boosting pay, bulking up benefits, and offering incentives and bonuses to attract and retain workers.
Turmail said the construction industry seeks to crush the long-held notion that the path to success involves earning a four-year degree.
“We’ve really devalued and put almost a stigma culturally on career tracks that don’t require that four-year degree,” Turmail said, “and don’t require you to work in a fluorescent-lit cube farm.”
Court Reporters and Water Workers in High Demand
One group of professionals that works indoors—but generally not in cubicles—is court reporters. And they’re also in short supply.
Karen Santucci, director of the court reporting program at Plaza College in Queens, N.Y., said a combination of retirements and a lack of knowledge about the career field has caused a significant scarcity of court reporters.
Nationwide, the industry is coping with a shortage of nearly 5,500 court reporters, according to the National Court Reporting Association. Santucci said that in her state, New York’s Supreme Court and lower court systems each report about 200 vacant court-reporting jobs, and grand juries in Brooklyn and Queens are clamoring for court reporters as well.
To woo court reporters, some employers are sweetening compensation with bonuses that may go as high as $1,000, Santucci said.
Adopting a longer-term approach, the court-reporting industry is bolstering relationships with schools like Plaza College that train court reporters. And the National Court Reporters Association’s A to Z program is introducing prospective court reporters to the stenography profession through a free six-week online course.
The course is “a great opportunity for students to try out—and hopefully fall in love with—the field before making a financial commitment,” Santucci said.
Veolia North America, a provider of water and wastewater services, is mirroring the court reporters’ offering of free online education.
The company recently opened its in-house Veolia Academy training program to the general public. The academy delivers dozens of online courses at no cost to people wanting to pick up the skills and certifications required to work in water and wastewater treatment. Veolia North America launched the program internally in 2021.
In a news release announcing the move, Fred Van Heems, president and CEO of Veolia North America, said “a generational wave of retirements” is propelling the water and wastewater industry “toward a staffing crisis.”
Luis Franco, senior vice president and chief human resources officer in the municipal water business unit at Veolia North America, said his division is recruiting candidates for about 250 jobs across the U.S. Among the open positions are operators and technicians.
Franco said a key driver of his unit’s shallower talent pool is the industry’s aging workforce.
“Skill gaps between the available workforce and the evolving demands of the industry—combined with a lack of educational programs and training opportunities specifically tailored to the needs of the industry—further contribute to the shortage,” Franco said.
Are Older Workers ‘An Underleveraged Pool of Talent’?
As the trucking, construction, court-reporting, and water treatment industries strive to overcome worker shortages due in part to their aging workforces, one talent expert believes some employers might look to older workers to help load up their employment pipelines.
Brian Ruggeberg is managing director and partner at Kincentric, which provides employee engagement and HR consulting services. He said some folks argue that delayed retirements and the return of retirees to the employment ranks are stifling job opportunities for others. But he maintains that older workers simply represent “a broader and sometimes underleveraged pool of talent” that can bump up the current and future labor supply.
Today’s supply of older workers already is relatively robust. The share of workers 55 and older rose from 13 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2024, a full one-fourth (25 percent) of the workforce is expected to be at least 55 years old.
“Organizations are missing the boat if they fail to include older workers in their talent pools,” Ruggeberg said. “Older workers often possess significant knowledge and experience, well-honed soft skills, greater intrinsic motivation and more flexibility in employment contracts. This makes them particularly attractive to organizations struggling with labor shortages.”