The rise of Generation X will have a significant impact on trucking, according to Dick Lanahan, president, Transportation Finance Group for The Associates. He says Gen-Xers have changed traditional, once successful, ways of doing business and he traces today's driver shortage to their reluctance to take less desirable jobs.
"Everything the market values is becoming smaller, faster, and smarter," he told delegates at a meeting of the Western Highway Institute this week.
"Generation X is a consumer that uses a PC at home or work and is very comfortable with the digital world, " he said. "He or she has at least one year of college, and earns more than
$50,000 a year. In 1980, these types of households were only 20% of the population
of the U.S. By 2010, they will grow to 54% of our population and will account for more than 70% of total spending.
"This segment is 'technologically savvy.' They use the Internet to compare products before making major purchases. They will buy products and services online."
Lanahan said the economic outlook for 2000 is good: Consumer demand is high, private fixed investment is rising and exports are rebounding, leading to about 3% growth next year.
Inflation was a wild card. The Fed increased interest rates in November and another increase was expected early next year. "Depending on what inflation does, more increases will follow. Your money costs will continue to rise during 2000," he said.
But Lanahan said the labor shortage would have a bigger long-term impact. "We're critically short of the one component this industry needs to continue to prosper - drivers," he said.
"Let's face it, truck driving is not one of the most attractive jobs in America right now.
It used to be, when times were hard, jobs were scarce and being an owner-operator or full time driver were very attractive options.
"Today, a Generation X-er who's never been to college can make a six-figure income if he knows how to design a video game. Why in the world would he want to drive a truck ... risking wrecks, divorce and thankless hard work ... for $50,000 a year?
"There will be more than 250,000 new Class 8 trucks on the road next year, and the number of used trucks will increase just as dramatically. The Transportation Department estimates that truck ton-miles will increase by 72 billion next year alone.
"Who's going to drive all those trucks? This is an industry problem that all of us need to think about very seriously. It represents an opportunity for all of us who are a part of, or rely on the trucking industry, to invest in our future.
"Part of the solution might be to establish scholarships at vocational schools, or find other educational programs. We need to figure out how to make driving more attractive. To increase the rewards, decrease the risks. To make sure the drivers aren't treated like second-class citizens at the loading dock. We need to figure out how we can change driving from a job, into an attractive, rewarding career."