Why is the trucking industry in America woefully short of drivers? There are many reasons, including the mass exodus of boomers as they reach retirement age, new federal regulations such as HOS (Hours of Service), the expense of training, and the cost of insurance. All true and all are part of the reason — just not the most important part. What’s the biggest reason? Ask yourself this: why would most of today’s younger generation want to be a truck driver? For much of today’s youth, it isn’t an attractive position.

What Makes It Unattractive?

Pay — The average truck driver in the USA makes $44,000. According to CNN Money, the average overall pay (all jobs) in America is $45,790, which makes $44,000 acceptable, doesn’t it? Not quite. 44K is the average. New drivers often make substantially less — mid to low 30’s or less, and it’s not only the income — it’s what’s expected for the money.

Training — The system is broken. Candidates can easily spend thousands on truck driving schools and earn their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), only to be underpaid, overworked, and out of the industry in less than a year. Add to this the number of disreputable schools, and you begin to see the problem.

Hours — New HOS (Hours of Service) regulations limiting driving time become effective July 1st, 2013. But even then, a driver may work 14 hours and /or drive 10 after only 10 hours of rest time, yet they’re allowed to work 60/70 hours every 7/8 days. If you’ve worked a similar schedule over an extended period, you understand it consumes your life, with little time for much other than work, eat, and sleep.

Health — Due to highway accidents, truck drivers account for nearly 12% of work related deaths (PDF) in the USA. With approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in America, out of 131 million employed persons, the danger is disproportionate. Add to that, the lifestyle is unhealthy. Inaccessible healthcare, the lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating all contribute to a life expectancy of 61 years old (worldwide).

Image — Let’s face it, the image of the truck driver in this country isn’t complimentary to many. 40 years ago, drivers may have been seen as romantic nomadic rebels, but not today. A profession which was a respected path for returning heroes after WWII is not as attractive to the younger generation.

What’s To Be Done?

It’s simple. Make it attractive. I didn’t say it was easy or cheap, but the continued shortage of qualified drivers won’t be either.

Offer in-house training — Many already do. I continue to hear there aren’t enough qualified drivers of good character. You think? It’s the same in most industries. Quit looking for qualified candidates and find good people of character. Hire for character and train for skills. Implement training programs and develop your own qualified drivers.

Pay a living wage — Especially new hires. This is a combination of paying a more livable wage for the hours worked, and not over-working trainees. Combine decent pay with realistic hours and a company-paid training program, and driver retention will improve. This may sound good on paper, but where is the money going to come from? It’s estimated the cost to replace any employee equals 20% of their salary. At an average of $44,000, that’s almost $9,000 in lost productivity, training time, and extended benefits.

Offer a life and a lifestyle — Both are difficult, working the hours away from home most drivers work. Many companies offer 7 days on and 7 days off plans; unfortunately, this plan is often seen as semi-retired. If you want to attract new, younger drivers, you must be flexible. They aren’t going to be unquestioning workaholics like previous generations.

Offer health benefits and the time to use them — not just regulated and required physical exams. Benefits, gym memberships, and healthy eating advice may sound “touchy-feely” to some logistics administrators, but you do want to find and retain new drivers, right?

Image — This will take an industry effort. To change the image, you first have to change the job. Everything I’ve already listed and more. Change the trucks. Make more drivers comfortable and technology accessible. Today’s young people know how to use technology, and they want jobs that incorporate it. Instead of hiring a “truck driver,” hire a “load management specialist” who uses on-board technology to save every penny possible, delivering goods in the most economical way, and who also happens to… drive the truck. Make the changes and spread the word. Write blogs, use social media, conduct job fairs, go to tech schools and college campuses, and offer internships.

I said it won’t be easy, but neither is the alternative. The shortage of drivers is already costing the industry, and it will only get worse. Some of what I suggest may sound radical, but how’s standing by the same old 40 year recruiting methods working? This is a new generation. The things that attracted older generations to driving aren’t attractive to the majority of younger prospects. If you want to survive, grow, and lead the industry – you need a makeover. How attractive are you?

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