Feature Articles - Weekly Feature

We have all heard of the great driver shortage that is happening in the trucking industry. In 2005, an industry study estimated that in just the segment of long haul, heavy truck driving, there would be 539,000 fewer drivers over the next ten years. In my opinion, though many drivers will retire within that ten-year period, enough drivers will come into the industry to compensate. The main objective for companies and the industry will be in retaining those drivers.

Truckers are coming from a different part of the population today than they were 25 years ago. Back then, drivers mostly came from three sources: trucking families, agricultural backgrounds, and the military. Today, drivers are coming more from manufacturing centers and urban areas than they did previously. This change in where drivers come from, their location and their type of background, makes retaining the driver in the industry a much harder task, mainly because these folks have different expectations than the drivers in the "old" days.

Many people are attracted by the supposed "big money" they can make as truck drivers and the deceptive ease of the job. We have all seen the ads that tout sightseeing as the big draw for becoming a driver and the inflated yearly wages advertised for entry-level students. Too many, attracted by these types of advertisements, go through school and start out with a company only to get a big shock when they find out the true difficulty of the job, the real working conditions, and the lower than expected yearly wages. This realization causes many to quit trucking shortly thereafter, costing much in wasted training time and wasted money for the industry as a whole.

Driver retention is important and thousands of dollars have been spent on analyzing how companies can do this. It can cost a significant amount for a company just to hire a driver. By retaining drivers, the company stands to recoup their outlay of money.

Companies could save the thousands of dollars spent on studies to figure out how to retain drivers by just listening to their drivers in the first place. Drivers want basically the same things and will continually job jump in search of them. Five major areas of a drivers' wants/needs are: Decent wages, good benefits, adequate scheduled home time with some flexibility, well-maintained equipment, and respect for a job well done.

Drivers being paid performance-based wages require adequate miles to make enough to support both their homes and life on the road. Wages have not kept up with higher costs of living, with many companies paying what they were paying per mile 10 to 15 years ago. Also, many companies have over-equipped to meet customers' "just-in-time" delivery schedules. This makes too many drivers available for too little existing freight causing many drivers to wait on loads uncompensated. The solution is simple: Pay decent wages to meet today's cost of living plus adequate compensation for down time.

Good Benefits
With today's economy, companies are starting to look at cutting their benefit programs as a way to save money. Taking away drivers' benefits does nothing to add to their desire to stay with a company. The solution: Medical insurance is a must. A 401K with some sort of matching by the company, along with a small life insurance policy, disability insurance, paid time off and the availability of other possible insurance such as vision and dental all create a better situation for the driver and their desire to stay or go.

Home Time
Many companies still want their drivers to stay out for months at a time or do not get the driver home when the driver wants or needs to get there. With adequate notice by the driver, there is no reason why a company cannot get a driver home when he or she wants to be there. Offering a reasonable ratio of home time days per weeks spent out, and offering flexibility if an emergency arises, is likely the most important aspect of driver retention and should be given a serious look.

Drivers cannot make any money while spending time in the shop or alongside the road. Today's economy requires things like maintenance to be taken care of by either in-house mechanics or low-cost outside shops. Dispatch should work with a driver to make sure they are properly positioned to take care of these issues when they arise. Also, though the initial outlay of money is high for APUS, companies need to take their driver's health and safety into consideration and provide the tools that allow the driver to do his/her job and save the fuel and money for the company.

For far too long the idea that drivers come a dime a dozen has prevailed in trucking. This is not only untrue, it is a safety risk as well when companies hire unskilled drivers. Plus, it is demoralizing to be treated as such. The solution to this is simple as well: When a driver does a good job, tell them. Drivers are human beings, not meat in the seat. A little respect for what the driver does for the company goes a very long way in increasing morale and making retaining that driver more likely. And it doesn't cost anything either. Companies ought to love that!

Ya'll be safe out there!