What To Do About The Truck Driver Shortage

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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By |2014-06-25T13:11:50+00:00April 5th, 2013|Trucking & Logistics|

About the Author:

Randy Clark is the Director of Communications at TKO Graphix, where he regularly blogs for TKO's Brandwire. Randy is passionate about social media, leadership development, and flower gardening. He is a beer geek and, on weekends, he fronts the rock band, Under The Radar. He is the proud father of one educator, one principal, has four amazing grandchildren, and a public speaker wife who puts up with him. His twitter handle is: @randyclarktko, Facebook: Randy Clarktko, Google+: Randy Clark on G+

11 Comments

  1. Scott M. Brannon April 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    One big item that isn’t on here that affects this is background checks. A lot of people that would be fine/happy with the hours, pay, image, etc. can’t get the jobs b/c of the strict background checks. Limiting background checks to 7 years or certain criteria (like only checking for driving offenses) would help the industry and also give people a second chance at life, which our current employment background policies for most industries do not.

  2. Randy Clark April 10, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Scott, thank you, your points are well taken. Unfortunately in our litigious society organizations must be careful of being exposed by someones background. For example, hiring anyone with a previous DUI may expose an org to law suits even if the driver is sober. Same with drug convictions, theft, embezzlement and more. I would heartily agree with a seven year criteria if it was backed by our courts. People do make mistakes, can change, and deserve a chance.

  3. Scott M. Brannon April 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    I agree, it’s a greater societal problem, and not just a driving industry issue. People can’t get housing b/c of things they did 10+ years ago now. We’re arresting everyone for everything, then refusing to hire them. More than 25% of the population of Indiana have criminal history issues. That’s a serious problem.

  4. Randy Clark April 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

    And the demographics, crimes, and sentences of the incarcerated should be reviewed and considered as well – We should talk next we see each other. Thank you sir.

  5. No Reform June 30, 2013 at 2:10 am

    Its going to get WORSE all right….the job is a Nightmare of regulations and rules and
    Satelite Monitoring….really a horrible job..no “freedom of the open road”..not hardly…
    constantly ABUSED by dispatchers, shippers, receivers, dock workers, COPS…and
    then More COPS….the PAY is crap… if the job was Worthwhile there would NOT be 100%
    annual turnover by dis satisfied drivers….it is seriously at the crap level today.

  6. Randy Clark July 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not a driver, but talking to many I understand it can be frustrating. I think changes will,have to come if for no other reason the industry cannot continue effectively with the current level of turnover and driver shortages.

  7. No Reform July 2, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Sure Randy..and thanks for taking an interest in Trucking.
    Ya know this guy Haslam from Pilot Trucks Stops is kind of an Example
    of the underlying current in trucking today…to “feed off the working man”.
    He and his Governor brother chose to STEAL from truckers nationwide on
    a wholesale basis for YEARS…..they are not alone…its a Rip Off.

  8. pplschmp August 13, 2015 at 11:08 am

    It is a sad situation in the trucking industry. My husband a 26+ year veteran of the road, is treated like a pair of gloves everyday by a greedy trucking company (one of many he has worked for over the years). It is a skill people. It takes patience, ability, focus, and did I say patience? It’s a dangerous and often thankless job. The hoops that these men have to jump though to get and maintain a license is insane. On top of that companies know there is a shortage of drivers yet the drivers they do have are treated like crap. They are often asked to work ridiculously long hours, have a total lack of family life, and virtually no time to exercise and enjoy their down time. It is a serious issue. My husband has been driving since he was 18, he has been in all 48 continental states, he is regarded by the trucking industry as the same as any other worker. He often says, we used to be “knights of the road” now we are seen as a nuisance to the common man. People driving and texting and cutting truckers off and rushing to get in front of them, putting themselves and the drivers in jeopardy every day. And companies really only want to pay them on average $20 an hour, how does this make sense? They are the brand ambassadors of your company, they are driving around with a 53′ billboard on the side of their truck, you would think you would want them to be happy to be working for you, care about their equipment, and represent you in a good way. How can you expect that to happen when you treat them like they can be replaced in a heart beat? We have chosen as a society to make the blue collar workers of America a bad thing. They keep the country going, they want to have pride in their job, I wish Mike Rowe could be heard by more people. He is right! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC0JPs-rcF0

  9. pplschmp August 13, 2015 at 11:22 am

    #truth!

  10. randyclarktko August 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for your insights and for sharing the video. I’d forgotten about it, good to see it again.

  11. Adam Fout December 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    I know it’s been a couple years since you posted this—the development of driverless vehicles seems like it may solve this entire problem eventually. As long as driverless vehicles are required to have a person in them, truck drivers will have jobs presumably. But as soon as legislation passes to allow the vehicles to be completely human free… what happens to the profession then?

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