I can remember in 1986 when I started out in the trucking industry there was always talk about the truck driver shortages. Even back then I found it hard to believe. It seemed like every time you went to a shipper to get loaded there was a line of trucks waiting to get loaded and when you got to the other end there was a line of trucks waiting to get unloaded. It appeared to me that we had too many trucks. At night when you were looking for a place to park and lay down for a while, it seemed like there was no place to be found and if you tried to get into a truck stop, forget it they were full. Once again, it appeared to me that we had too many trucks.
It does appear different now. With the horrendous ELD Mandate, older drivers are leaving the industry and younger drivers don’t want big brother telling them when to eat, sleep, or even when they can take a shower. I am sure trucking companies understand the personality of a good truck driver, but I doubt very seriously the Senators and Congressmen in Washington understand. One would think, that a trucking company that wanted a good reliable driver, would want an individual that was independent, a self-starter and someone who didn’t need to be told everything to do every minute of the day.
Is there a solution to this problem or do they really want to find out why we have a truck driver shortages? Sometimes we question if the large trucking companies don’t mind the revolving door, so they can continue with young drivers that don’t know they are taken advantage of, so to keep wages low. We would like to take an honest look at the situation and maybe see if there will ever be a remedy.
Get Into the People Business
It is possible, if they are serious about how to slow the process of driver turnover, companies must get back into the people business. They need to realize that people are not machines, everyone is different and everyone has different needs to how much sleep they require, how many hours they can work and how many breaks they need during the day. This is true in a normal job environment as well as the trucking industry. One could call it nature, different genes or God created, but two people have never been the same with the same desires or needs.
The turnover rate for large over-the-road trucking companies is at 98% and some say even higher. For smaller companies, this figure falls to around 78% and for LTL carries if goes down to 10%! Maybe this is something the large carries should look at, LTL carriers have more home time, set routes and more of an ordinary schedule. The Chief Economist for the ATA. Bob Costello, downplays these numbers saying “it is hard to draw any real conclusion on what is happening with turnover”. The ATA has always supported the larger truckload carriers and this makes me wonder, do they really want to fix this problem, as this is pretty much what he has said since I can remember.
It makes no difference if it is a large corporation, trucking company or even small companies if they don’t treat their employees as people and treat them well there will continue to be a lot of turnovers. The trucking industry was never one for political correctness. Company management is getting better, but this is only because they have been forced to. Most of the problem with the way drivers are generally treated lies with shippers, receivers, and fellow drivers. When a person feels he cannot be seen, such as on the CB radio or on the internet, a lot of things tend to be said about women, minorities and others’ that really ought to not be said.
Young people are brought up today in an environment of no criticism, no failure and the idea that everyone is equal. That is one reason they are having such a hard time adapting to the industry because when they get out in the trucking environment they find out shippers and receivers will be rude, pushy, impolite and in some cases prejudice towards them. Instead of treating drivers like second-class citizens, company management, shippers, and receivers are going to have to learn to treat people more human. I know years ago everyone just told you to man-up, learn how to take a little criticism, but young people don’t do that now, they just quit.
On the other side, we can’t blame fellow drivers for criticizing other drivers. It is just normal human nature to lash out when a person feels his rights and his ability to make a living is in jeopardy. With the passing of NAFTA, more drivers were allowed to drive in our nation, who lack proper training and their equipment is substandard by any means. We are usually expected to keep our equipment in great shape and they are permitted to operate with tractors that should not be on the road. Large companies, in their pursuit of finding the cheapest owner/operators to haul their goods, go out and hire drivers who come over here, who with the help of one or two of their brothers, by a used tractor and operate at a substantially lower rate than any of us could.
These are just some of the problems that are going to have to be addressed. Otherwise, younger drivers are going to continue working for a while then go on, to find other work with less harassment and better pay.
When we talk about driver retention probably at the top of the list of things that need to improve is drivers pay. Companies might consider steps to make the job more attractive — potentially by creating regional lanes, or routes, that would enable drivers to be home more often, or rearranging daily schedules to create predictability and uniformity. As of now, drivers can spend weeks on the road, sleeping in unpleasant conditions, seldom home for the evenings or the weekends.
Driver pay has been unable to keep up with inflation since 1980, effectively cutting truckers’ pay by just about a third, in accordance with analyst Gordon Klemp president to the National Transportation Institute. Klemp has stated that truckers wages averaged $38,618 annually in 1980. If adjusted for rising cost of living, that would be over $111,000 per year. Of course, there are different wages reported at different companies, in different areas of the nation, but the overall average in 2017 for driver wages was reported to be $78,103. When you get down to some of the lower salaries, say $33,000 per year, it averages out to be a very long way from $111,000.
The below chart on overdriveonline.com, fairly explains the disparity between company driver pay, owner/operators and inflation-adjusted mean U.S. household income. You can see there is somewhat of a difference.
The top line in the graph: Inflation-adjusted average U.S. household income
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau. Many of these averages skew higher than trucking pay mainly because of two-income households and mainly because of a small but reasonably high set of outsize earners at the top. The median income (the midpoint between the group of top and bottom earners) ranges over this same time period between $58,000 and $53,000. Data is unavailable for 2015.
The middle line: Inflation-adjusted owner-operator earnings
SOURCE: Averages of ATBS owner-operator clients, many of whom are leased. Over this time frame, their annual miles fell slightly more than 20 percent, reflecting long-term downward trends in length of haul and various other operating factors.
The bottom line: Inflation-adjusted company driver pay
SOURCE: National Transportation Institute, averaged based on driver pay packages in NTI’s long-running survey of medium-to-large truckload fleets, transformed to an hourly rate and structured on a 40-hour week.
I understand a lot of you would argue with me, on this subject, but why is a truck driver so much different than an airline pilot? I know a truck driver has a lot less education and may be considered unskilled labor, this was the case in the past. Now a truck driver has to go through truck driving school, three to six weeks, and if he or she is going to get all the necessary endorsement, spend a rather large sum of money and time for all this. Pilots and truck drivers are heavily regulated as to hours of service, when they can work or how much they should sleep. Both have to work in all types of weather, at different locations, communicate with people of all nationalities and are responsible for the welfare of a lot of people. Think about all the children you pass by every day and think what would happen if you or the person that was driving them lost control of their vehicle?
I am not saying we should make the same, but a truck drivers salary ought to be up there with a pilot. The median salary in 2018 for an airline pilot is $130,059, plus pilots have a lot of benefits such as nice motels and great meals. It could go a long way towards driver retention and the driver shortage if the wages are brought up to close to these levels. Additionally, during your 34-hour break, the company put you up in a nice motel with meals!
Regular Time At Home
Why do young drivers get so disillusioned? Take a look at this scenario and if you have been driving for a while, this has happened to you more than once. It starts out with a young man very interested in driving a truck and possibly a career in the industry. They talk to several recruiters at several large companies. Because a person has no experience they have to start by attending a truck driving school or some type of training, usually lasting three to six weeks, depending on the company they want to work for.
I refer to the larger companies here because most of them have their own training programs, which last for about three weeks and then it is three weeks with a trainer. That being a driver who is expected to have several years of over-the-road experience and an excellent safety record. The young man goes in talks to the recruiter to get everything set up and is told that after all their training they will be able to go out with their own truck, work about three weeks and then have three days off. Of course, all trucking companies are different, but many have a day off per week and normally say they will keep you out for three weeks.
The prospective driver is informed he will make about $40 to $45,000 per year and this calculates out to a lot more than the $25,000 he is making now. He is happy about this newly discovered opportunity and races home to tell his wife and two children. This could be where the problems may start! The wife is not pleased about staying home alone with two young children, but he pleads his case and assures her that after his training, they can adapt and they will have their three days off to enjoy each other’s company, they can adjust to three weeks of work and he promises to make the best of the three days off. Besides, they will have a lot of extra money, so they will be able to go out and enjoy some of the things they have put off for some time.
So, off he goes to the three-week truck driver school and the three weeks with his trainer. It ends up being more of a struggle than they imagined, but they get through it. He gets home for some much deserved time off, they enjoy the time off and come to the conclusion that after this, they will be able to manage the three weeks apart. The young man gets his own rig to drive and he is off on his own, very much excited about the future.
It is a learning process, something like they have never faced before, but they get through their first three weeks of work and he is expecting to get a load to get home for his three days off that the recruiters promised. Well, the dispatchers tell him that they don’t have a load going home for him, but if he will take the load they have in the opposite direction, they assure him they will have a load for him to take home and he will have four days off. He calls the little woman, sitting at home with the children, and assures her that he will be home after this load and then have four days off. Of course, she is not impressed but has to accept it.
Your new driver takes the load they offer, gets it delivered, calls in only to hear the same story as before. Now we have a very unhappy driver, very annoyed wife, two screaming kids, and by the time he gets home he is searching for another job, only to start the cycle over. We all have had this experience and this is one of the major things that need to be dealt with in the industry if anyone is going to decrease driver turnover. This is a problem that must be addressed by the trucking companies and shippers. In this day of computer technology, we can’t understand why these problems keep taking place.
What about steady work? We need to go back to the people aspect of this when you talk about steady as everyone’s definition of steady work is different. Some people can work long hours and it does not bother them. Older drivers may need a little time between loads, or say one day off per week, instead of staying out three or four weeks at a time. No matter the circumstances’ personnel departments and dispatchers should know how their drivers like to work, how much time they need off or do they want to run a lot of miles.
Regardless of the situation, probably most drivers do not want to sit in truck stops for a day or two between loads. This gets back to driver pay and time off. Just imagine you sign up at a new company and they tell you, the only time off you will have is for your 34-hour reset. This is great, just what you wanted and you will get three days off after three weeks out. Fantastic! Your first load is about 1500 miles and about three days, getting loaded, driving, and getting unloaded. Right away you call your dispatcher and what does he tell you? “I am working on something now, keep an eye on your Qualcom”!
Two hours go by, still nothing, so you call him back. He states “Oh that load fell through, give me a couple more hours”. Now you are a little concerned, as the recruiter told you the only time off you would have on the road was when you ran out of hours. But, you wait, what else can you do? Another two hours, nothing, so you call back. This time he tells you to go on to the truck stop cause it could be tomorrow before you can get a load.
Now you are very unhappy and you go to the truck stop and start reading all the brochures advertising all the truck driving jobs. This may go on for three weeks, at the end of that time you only have 3000 miles. It is believed to be your time to go home and spend some time with the family, but can you? 3000 miles for three weeks is not going to pay the bills. This is another scenario they plays out every week with large companies and other companies that don’t have a good system in place to keep their drivers busy. No driver wants to spend his time off in truck stops, they want to take time off at home with the family.
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It is hard for smaller companies to offer good benefits for their drivers. With the cost of healthcare as it is, small companies say they have a hard time paying for it. These companies are not going to open their books and show us what they are actually making. In order to keep good drivers they are having to pay more per mile, but one would think that with the shortage of trucks they always talk about, freight rates have gone up too.
We can take a look at some of the LTL carriers, air freight carriers and see that they offer very good retirement plans for their drivers. They also are the lowest when it comes to driver turnover and this is also because they have regularly scheduled home time for their employees. Companies with high turnover rates need to look at some of these benefits plans and figure out a way to put them into action
With all the government intervention into our lives over the past few years, they have made it impossible for an individual to pay for health care on their own. Young people today expect health benefits from their employers and until they figure a way to lower the cost it is going to have to stay that way.
Good retirement plans are also needed to keep good drivers. Drivers are more aware today of our Social Security system today and they know retirement is not going to be what it was five years ago, much less 30 years from now. Many large companies have good 401k plans, pensions and a lot more benefits than we had in the past, but the problem lies with educating their drivers about all these benefits and what they will be passing up if they move on to another job.
Good Equipment/Well Maintained
Truck drivers live in their trucks twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t know anyone who does not want a good, comfortable truck, one that is well maintained, not breaking down all the time. With trucks being what they are nowadays there is no reason for a company to operate junkie equipment, but there are those that still try to get by a cheap as possible. More than likely these are the companies that have a large turnover rate.
Many of you have been there before, driving through a large city during rush hour, in the right lane, minding your business, and the unexpected happens, your truck breaks down for no reason. A very stressful, aggravating, and embarrassing situation. You know that by the time the wrecker gets there, that there will be twenty miles, at least, of unhappy, frustrated, and mad as hell four wheelers and truckers behind you.
If you are a younger driver just starting out in the industry, this is something that is hard to cope with. One time might not be a problem, but if it happens two or three times in a row, then you are going to start looking for another trucking company to work for. One that you hope has a better maintenance program.
Keeping and maintaining good equipment is essential to retaining good drivers. Just like sitting in a truck stop all the time waiting on loads, broke down on the side of the road is no circumstance a good driver wants to be in. This is where downtime pay comes into play, no one wants a lot of downtime, it severely hampers a driver making a good wage, thus creating a very unhappy wife at home with the kids.
Just about all the industries that involve physical labor, factory work, menial work, or work that does not require a lot of education has a high turnover rate. This is definitely attributed to a lot of reasons, one of which will be the low pay. When these jobs were compared to the trucking industry, the trucking companies turnover rate is a lot higher. My guess this is due to being away from your family for long periods of time and the low pay.
Things are changing with trucking companies. They have realized that business, as usual, is not going to work with this new generation and changes are required if they want to keep good drivers. With all the new technologies and the advancements in the way trucks run these days, driver and mechanics need to become knowledgeable about computers. A more educated driver means better pay.
If we were to look at all the companies out there, one would find that the companies that have kept up with better pay, time at home, and all the other things we talked about here probably have a turnover rate below the industry average. With the turn around in the economy factory work and construction have become more attractive than a truck driving job. If trucking companies are serious about keeping good drivers they are going to have to put into practice a lot of the things we have talked about here.
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Thank you for reading my post and I hope to hear from you soon!