PHOENIX — The trucking needs in the United States are great and the number of drivers needed to rectify the situation is staggering.

“We are 81,000 drivers short of the number that we need to maintain a fully functional supply chain in this country as of today, and that’s up 20,000 pre-COVID,” said Nick Geale, vice president for workforce policy at the American Trucking Association, who spoke to a crowd at SNX, SNAC International’s collaboration and education forum, held March 27-29.

“If we don’t reverse this trend, it’s going to get worse,” he continued. “Over the next 10 years we need 1 million people to become truck drivers in this country just to maintain our current level of supply with a little bit of organic growth.”

There are several reasons for the exodus from the profession, including fatigue from being away from family all the time.

“The average age of truck drivers globally is close to 50,” Mr. Geale said. “In the US it is somewhere between 47 and 49, depending on what groups you’re counting. ... It’s a demographic time bomb.”

Fixing the problem will not come easily and will need a multipronged approach. Mr. Geale provided several ways the pool of drivers can be expanded with promising programs that would help more people become drivers.

Those solutions include the Drive Safe Act pilot program, which will be starting soon and will allow drivers who are 18 to 20 years old to drive across state lines after completing training and meeting other requirements. He also mentioned tapping into funds allocated for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is designed to help job seekers access employment and to match employers with the skilled workers they need. It was passed by Congress in 2014 and is now up for reauthorization.

Truck drivers fill critical needs daily in the United States, making it imperative that solutions are found and implemented, Mr. Geale said.

“Our truck drivers kept this country going during the pandemic,” he said. “But for them, a large number of people in this country couldn’t have gotten their daily necessities. Eight percent of this country depends 100% on trucks to receive their daily needs.”