Keep looking for solutions to the driver shortage

By Gino Fontana

Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Transervice
As originally appeared in FleetOwner Magazine’s IdeaXchange

This will probably not surprise anyone, but for the fifth consecutive year the driver shortage has topped the American Transportation Research Institute’s list of the trucking industry’s top concerns. In fact, one could argue that six of the top 10 issues identified by carriers are driver related—driver retention (No. 2), CSA (No. 4), driver compensation (No. 5), driver distraction (No. 9) and detention/delays at customer facilities (No. 10). The other items on the list are lawsuit abuse reform, insurance cost/availability, diesel technician shortage, and transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding.

Bob Costello, American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) chief economist, recently said that trucking is short 80,000 drivers. That’s a lot of drivers. The ATRI report offered up some things that could be done to potentially help ease the shortage. Two of its suggestions focus on advocating for changes to work rules. One is advocating for the passage of the DRIVE Safe Act pilot program to make people between 18 and 21 years of age-eligible to drive interstate. Of course, a valid CDL is a prerequisite. The other is to advocate for the expansion of the U.S. EB-3 Permanent Work Authorization permit. This would allow for the recruiting of drivers from other countries. It is an employer-sponsored permit that covers skilled, professional, or other workers.

The report also suggests doing outreach aimed at high school students and to other young adults. I think it wouldn’t hurt to start talking about what a great industry this is to kids that are in middle schools or even grade schools. Today, more than 25% of drivers are over the age of 55, and the average age of drivers is 46. We have to do something to start bringing young drivers into the industry because if we think wait times for deliveries are long now, what is it going to be like when these older drivers retire? If we don’t start talking to young people about how important trucking is and the cool technology on trucks, we will have a hard time getting fresh faces behind the wheels of trucks.

Attracting drivers is just part of the issue because once a fleet hires drivers it needs to retain them. Again, I am going to cite ATA. At the end of 2020, driver turnover at large fleets was 92%. I suggest you start speaking with your current drivers to find out what keeps them driving for you. You might be surprised to find that it isn’t always the fact that you pay more per mile.

For some drivers, their satisfaction also is tied to the type of equipment they drive. Drivers want to drive trucks that are in good operating condition and, of course, many of them—especially younger drivers—want trucks with the latest technology on them. Given the current difficulty getting new vehicles because of material shortages, make sure you have reviewed your maintenance practices so that your trucks are in top operating condition. There is nothing a driver hates more than being stuck on the side of the road with a truck issue that could have been prevented with some basic maintenance.

Other drivers are concerned about the type of routes they drive. More and more drivers are expressing a desire to be home more often, so local or regional haul options can be a good retention tool. Review your operations to see if there is a way you can reconfigure things so that drivers have more options to get home regularly.

I was not surprised by ATRI’s most recent list, nor am I surprised that there is no magic solution to the driver shortage. The problem has been around for many years. Fleets just need to keep working on creative solutions or they can consider the idea of outsourcing their drivers and making the driver shortage someone else’s issue.

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