The current truck driver shortage is no joke, and the economy is feeling the sting. According to American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry needs about 51,000 more drivers to meet the demands of the top 3 online retailers alone. Fewer drivers means delayed deliveries and rising costs of American goods, not to mention increased pressure on those behind the wheel—the effects are real. So what’s behind the shortfall and what can trucking companies do to keep their best drivers on the road? To answer that, let’s first get the inside scoop from the drivers themselves.
It’s no secret that a trucker’s life is tough. Tightening regulations and demanding schedules can be hard to bear. While some drivers are well-compensated, others feel overworked and underpaid. One longtime trucker says that this is a main reason for the shortage.
Due to inflation and the rising cost of living, many drivers make less money now than they did decades ago. Most are stuck earning an average of $42,000 per year. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t much once you consider the license, certifications, training, and know-how needed to become a qualified driver.
One trucking newbie says the industry is in crisis because a lot of time is wasted. A driver may sit idle for several hours before their cargo is unloaded, and all that wait-time costs drivers a considerable amount of potential pay as a result.
Being short on drivers also means extra runs. Oftentimes these runs aren't about freight as much as they are about traveling to various locations. Time is money—for drivers as well as their employers—and both are wasted when trucking companies are inefficient and underproductive.
Trucking companies often offer big sign-up bonuses, but usually with strings attached. Some drivers even describe them as “a complete joke.” To qualify for a bonus, drivers may need to hold multiple certifications and meet strict fuel-usage limits. But the latter just isn't feasible for older trucks. So those shiny bonuses are often just piles of fool’s gold. Too much fine print is more than just an unfair frustration for drivers—it could weaken their loyalty to your company.
Trucking has a heavy, everyday impact on drivers. Some drivers are shipping out because they're away from home for extended periods. Sadly, all that time on the road can lead to failed relationships and broken families. On top of that, a social life is practically nonexistent, leaving drivers feeling isolated and lonely. They hardly have enough time for the basics, like sleeping, personal care, and healthful eating.
Combine an already frustrating situation with a critical lack of communication, and it's no wonder that internal relations and morale have tanked. These all-too-common scenarios have pushed many experienced drivers out of the industry altogether. What a loss! So if your company is feeling the heat of shortage, you're probably nodding along and wondering: “How can I keep my best drivers?”
The top concerns among drivers are:
Let’s tackle these one by one.
Increasing pay per mile doesn’t necessarily mean better compensation, and a pay raise doesn’t automatically make for happier drivers. That’s especially true if a company shortens the miles paid, which has been described as “the most widely used scam in the trucking industry.” We suggest you allow drivers to double check their pay statements, either in print or electronically.
Companies could also offer a competitive benefits package and clearly spell out the perks. Benefits that attract drivers include a 401k matching retirement plan, vacation time, health insurance, and life insurance. Truck drivers and their families both want protection and a secure future. When you stay true to your word about mileage and offer competitive benefits, you’ll gain the trust of your drivers.
Drivers prefer frank, honest communication. So be upfront about what they can expect from their schedule, how they can make necessary adjustments, and share your protocol for time-off requests. Here’s the bottom line: be as flexible as possible. It’s all about balance. When you’re considerate of their needs and circumstances, your drivers will feel respected and have more reason to stay with your company.
Truck drivers want—and deserve—to be treated like valuable assets. It goes a long way when higher-ups show appreciation for their drivers’ hard work. Learn the names of your drivers and get to know them individually. Meet with them in person and consider putting a manager coaching program into place. With all the daily time-crunching, that’s easier said than done—and sometimes impossible. But even brief face-to-face interactions can boost morale. Showing you really care about your drivers will help to create a positive work environment with healthy management-employee relationships. But here's the real perk: you'll be building company loyalty in the process.
Driving a truck involves so much more than just sitting behind the wheel. There is a long list of rules and regulations to follow—is it reasonable to expect each driver to work from memory alone? Instead, provide your drivers with an easy-to-use guide on company policies and procedures. Be clear about expectations for fuel efficiency, safety, productivity, wait time, and on-time pickup and delivery.
Rob Hatchett, Vice President of marketing and recruiting at Covenant Transportation Group, says that a company needs to stay connected to its drivers. Studies have shown that companies with higher retention rates use communication technology—company mobile apps, driver portals, social media, etc.—to keep in touch with their drivers. Good communication builds trust, a quality that encourages company loyalty.
Wait time between customers and loads is a common concern, so make sure you fully inform your drivers of company policy on the issue. And penalizing them for long waits—especially when the situation is beyond their control–is a surefire way to upset drivers.
Is your company gaining routes and/or purchasing new equipment? You may be tempted to offer them to fresh, younger hires. But that can cause a lot of conflict with long-time drivers. They’ve been loyal to your company for years—don’t they deserve first dibs? Showing favoritism to new hires has actually pushed some experienced drivers out of the industry completely. Just think of the time, effort, and training behind a decade or more of driving experience: that’s some real value at stake.
Drivers will be more motivated to do their best when their dispatchers and supervisors show appreciation for their work. Some trucking companies have used programs that collect anonymous feedback from drivers and use an automatic rewards system. Drivers can earn points for checking off certain tasks or meeting performance goals, and then redeem those points for cash or items of their choice. By using this kind of program, some companies have slashed their turnover rates by more than 50%! It's clear that recognition and rewards help trucking companies keep their topnotch drivers–that’s worth checking into.
But the best way to recognize and reward your drivers is by giving them opportunities to move up in your company. Why not set up programs for career advancement? Promote your best drivers with job title changes and corresponding pay when possible. They’ll feel valued and even more determined to be a great driver, which helps your company grow and thrive—that's how you build loyalty.
Truck driving isn’t for the faint of heart. The struggles, challenges, and frustrations involved are very real. Unfortunately, they often go unaddressed by trucking companies. It's really no wonder then that turnover rates are so high. Sad to say, many highly-qualified, experienced drivers are leaving the industry. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Take a moment to think of your own five-star drivers. Without them, how could your company function? The happier your drivers are, the more successful your company will be. So really listen to their concerns and be constructive—implement drivers' feedback. Prove to them that you value their opinions and expertise, care about them as individuals, and want them to reach their potential. Here's the reward: strong driver-company loyalty and talent kept close to home. That's a win-win!
Have other questions or concerns? ZINC’s expert trucking specialists, Rob Gehring and Cindy Spiker, are here to help. Give them a call today!
Rob Gehring, Trucking Specialist
440 526-5702 (direct)
440 526-2661 (office)
330 703-5943 (cell)
440 815-2064 (fax)
Cindy Spiker, Customer Service Specialist
440 526-5781 (direct)
440 526-2661 (office)
440 815-2343 (fax)
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