Some Things You Might Not Know About the Driver Shortage

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Posted on April 16th 2015 8:20 PM

One reason the driver shortage is so acute right now is that during the recession between 2007 to 2011 the trucking industry literally recruited no new drivers. As in zero, reinforces Gordon Klemp, CEO of the National Transportation Institute in the U.S.

In fact, many fleets let drivers go, others retired early, and the growth in more local intermodal absorbed whatever new driver candidates where left, he added.

Klemp and NTI VP of sales Leah Shaver were invited to talk about driver recruiting and retention in a webinar called, Helping New Drivers Succeed and Stay , presented by Fleet Owner magazine and sponsored by Verizon Networkfleet.

Fleet Owner reports that Klemp got things rolling with a sometimes surprising look at the driver shortage today and its root causes. According to Klemp, today’s shortage is exacerbated by what he called “the underground economy.” That used to be a term coined for the network of people who engage in a variety of illegal activities for profit. Today, they are joined by those who have abandoned jobs such as trucking and entered the welfare ranks instead, supplementing their income with “off the books” part time jobs for cash.

“Lots of former drivers get by this way,” Klemp said.

Making the problem worse, he added,  is an industry with an “aging and inverted workforce” – not ideal for highly physical jobs like trucking. “We don’t retire drivers as much as we wear them out,” Klemp observed. “They leave trucking for physical reasons.”

Driver pay has not kept pace with inflation, either, even though the industry now has the highest per-mile pay rate ever, Klemp reported. In the last 20 years, there has been about a 40% growth in driver pay, but drivers have actually lost money due to inflation.

Colleague Leah Shaver followed Klemp to outline some concrete things fleets can do to help improve their own driver retention numbers. Among them:

  • Provide drivers with smartphones and other forms of in-cab communications  so they have stay in touch  and  have video chats with family and friends.
  • Create new driver mentoring programs. “Assign a neutral party to help new drivers transition [into your fleet],” she said. Mentoring works best if everybody is involved in mentoring, but if that is not practical, do your best to pair an existing employee who is positive and communicates well with new drivers.
  • Get dispatchers involved. Don’t under estimate the importance of the dispatcher role in driver retention, according to Shaver. Put your new drivers with a dispatcher who is fast and technologically savvy and keep each dispatcher’s fleet size manageable. You need a strong match between planners and dispatchers, too.
  • Spend more money on developing fleet drivers not on hiring new drivers. And don’t give up too quickly on drivers who need extra help and retraining.
  • Remember, driver aren’t too complicated. They want miles, money, home time and respect. Retaining drivers is all about managing perceptions.

View the full webinar on-demand, free of charge.

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