Local longtime trucker says driver scarcity is compounded by overall labor shortage


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Experts have zeroed in on the overall shortage of truck drivers as one of the major reasons the United States is facing issues with its supply chain. However, one longtime driver said the overall labor shortage isn’t helping entice would-be drivers to get behind the wheel.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a need for more CDL-certified drivers. An increase in the globalization of the economy has lead to an increase in the need for truckers for decades.

When the pandemic hit, the trucking industry was leaned on even more heavily.

Now, following an influx in cash from the federal government in COVID-19 relief and increased confidence in the economy on account of the vaccine, demand for goods has skyrocketed and the trucking industry has struggled to keep up.

In Los Angeles, the shortage of truck drivers has become so serious, there are more than 13 loads or cargo for every truck at the port.

While the Port of Virginia said they have not faced similar issues, a spokesperson said “there isn’t a lot of room for error.”

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“The nation’s supply chain is facing unprecedented challenges. There are a lot of people working to ensure that the cargo is flowing and to alleviate the bottlenecks in the supply chain, and many of them are right here at the Port of Virginia,” Joe Harris, a spokesperson for the Port of Virginia said Friday.

Still, the ripple effects are being seen everywhere, from small businesses to school cafeterias.

Ed Henk, director at Shippers Choice CDL School in Newport News, said he has actually had to limit the number of new truck drivers he can instruct at once, as qualified instructors have been able to make more money driving for major trucking companies.

“It snowballs,” Henk said.

Henk, who sat behind the wheel of a big rig for more than 35 years before becoming an instructor, said the challenges of getting truck drivers on the road are complex.

“It’s not an easy job. To make money, you are on the road for 70 hours a week, when you sleep, you are often away from your family. A lot of people don’t want to do that,” Henk said.

When you add in the fact that students must pass a drug test and have a mostly clean driving record, many of Henk’s students don’t make it graduation.

The pandemic has brought new challenges.

For months, the Department of Motor Vehicles only accepted appointments online. Henk said that kept drivers hoping to haul hazardous materials, from getting their endorsements quickly.

Now, he said the overall labor shortage is keeping truckers from making as much money as they could.

By law, truckers are only allowed to work a certain number of hours each day, whether they are driving or not. Many trucking companies pay by the mile.

“So then you go to a warehouse to deliver and it takes them five hours to offload you, you’ve lost five hours out of your day already, so you can’t drive anymore,” Henk said.

Henk said he’s not sure of the exact answer to solve the problem. But he knows it can’t be done by one industry alone.

“It’s got to take all aspects working together, all the way from the pickups and the deliveries and the transports in between,” Henk said.

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