The Truck Driver Shortage: Anecdotes vs Data
By many estimates, the truck driver shortage is real and getting worse. The American Trucking Association (ATA) anticipates the industry will be short 100,000 drivers by 2024, and 160,000 by 2030 (1). Yet the growth in trucking jobs by 2030 is projected to be 6%, just below average (2).
A huge part of the problem, then, is that drivers are leaving the industry. According to the ATA3, there were 3.36 million drivers employed in the U.S in 2020, down 6.8% from 2019, stretching the remaining workforce over a more competitive hiring landscape. What does that workforce look like?
For one, it’s only 7.8% female (4), about half the 15.3% rate of female police officers (5). Drivers over 55 are 31% of the workforce; only 6% are under 25 (6). By comparison, youth participation in construction is 9.4%, and only 22% are 55 or older (7).
So trucking companies are competing for a diminishing, aging, and overwhelmingly male workforce not just against other companies, but against other industries that are more appealing to women, younger workers, and increasingly, the general driver population.
Why Drivers Leave Jobs
The turnover rate among drivers was a breathtaking 91% (8) in 2019. Why? Like everyone else, truck drivers want their working lives to be a positive experience.
In exit interviews, drivers say their biggest issue is the frequency, duration, and predictability of time at home. Other major frustrations include breakdowns and equipment failure, and poor or disrespectful treatment (by the carrier, shipper, and consignee).
Many drivers are leaving the industry altogether, finding the schedules, economics, or physical wear and tear unsustainable. With nearly one-third of drivers 55 and over, retirements are looming.
To compete successfully for drivers, fleet operators must be willing to look objectively at their employment value proposition relative to other carriers or employers in different verticals. Drivers talk with one another daily, so a positive reputation is a powerful tool in attracting new drivers. Finally, drivers want to get home safely to their families, so investments in safety technologies and creating an authentic safety culture will enhance the carrier’s attractiveness to new drivers.
The Employment Value Proposition
The employment value proposition (EVP) has become a popular recruiting tool across many industries. At its core, an EVP proposes something of value to your employees in exchange for the value created by the driver for the company. It needs to be a fair and equitable exchange.
A positive and fair EVP can help ease recruiting while raising hiring standards. Driver surveys, interviews, and focus groups will yield valuable insights about your offering and culture that can help create a hiring and retention strategy. An effective EVP will have several traits:
- Differentiation: It defines what’s unique about your company
- Honesty: It’s based on genuine insight into your employment experience
- Real Value: It’s relevant to the kind of people you want to attract
- Balance: It provides a reasonable balance between work and home time
The EVP may invoke treatment, opportunity, safety, equipment, growth, or whatever you truly offer employees that’s of value to them. If your EVP is hard to discern, you may be compelled to look at your offering critically.
Salary and wages
According to the latest ATA survey (9), more than 90% of truckload fleets raised pay by an average of 10.9% in 2021, with median truckload drivers earning more than $69,000. Drivers for LTL fleets reached $73,000, and $85k in private fleets. Sign-on bonuses were also popular.
Compensation may be the best proxy we have for the quality of the people we are able to attract, but continually outbidding each other is not a long-term fleet staffing solution. Other tools are needed.
Culture as a Recruiting Tool
"People join and leave cultures, not companies" is a popular recruiting concept. But what is culture? The definition I embrace is "a set of shared beliefs, values, and attitudes that characterize an organization." Culture guides behavior, decisions, and interactions. Negative cultures repel. Positive cultures can attract and keep good people.
Video Safety and the Value of a Safety Culture
An authentic safety culture not only reduces crash rates, it’s also an effective recruiting and retention tool. Consistently communicating and living a strong safety culture demonstrates your commitment to doing the right things and can be an important part of your value proposition.
An investment in video safety is a particularly visible demonstration of concern for your drivers. It can be used for employment marketing and for retention through skills training and incentivized safety reward programs. You can read more about video safety in my previous blog, The Statistics, Causes, Consequences, and Possible Solutions to Rising Truck Crash Rates.
Where Drivers Look for Jobs
While job boards and websites are used by some drivers, my experience suggests that most drivers are picked off by another carrier, often using truckstop recruiters and mailings to all CDL holders in a given area. Most for-hire recruiters are smooth salespeople whose rhetoric often doesn’t match reality. Predatory truckstop recruiting represents a stain on our industry, in my opinion, but it is often used effectively. Radio, TV, social media, and direct mail to home where the family might see it are other avenues to reach drivers.
Employee Referral Programs
Referral bonus programs for employees who refer new drivers are widely popular. Current employees are motivated to refer quality candidates, and sufficient bonuses can energize your workforce to participate, aiding retention.
To escape the 90% turnover rate, figure out why your long-term drivers stay and why drivers leave. A serious EVP process can help you learn why people come and stay. You can find general statistics about why drivers leave companies, but exit interviews will reveal why drivers leave your company and help you address common reasons.
Reviews on Glassdoor, Indeed, and other job boards can reveal general trends among both satisfied and unhappy employees and suggest a basis for improvement. You can improve both hiring and retention by enhancing and promoting your positive aspects, addressing the negative, and improving transparent communication around things you can’t change.
Traits of the Best and Worst Employers
Drivers have differing priorities, but the best companies are known for treating their employees with fairness and respect, evident in pay, benefits, communications, work schedules, safety, and everyday interactions. They make drivers feel valued. The worst are companies that fail in those respects, particularly in areas that could be improved if they’d choose to.
A commitment to safety is an excellent indicator of a company’s concern for its drivers. The best companies know how to match load complexity to driver skill level, for example. They see protecting lives as a moral obligation and make safety a core value. Their goal is zero fatalities or serious injuries.
The worst companies view safety as a situational priority and risk/financial calculation. They take a minimalist approach, and fatalities are viewed as the cost of doing business. Bottom line, if you’re a carrier who embraces a “ride ‘em hard and put 'em up wet” mentality, you’ll get the turnover you deserve. Drivers are NOT a robotic component of the truck. They are human beings doing a difficult but critically important job. They need to be recognized as such.
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1) ATA Driver Shortage Update, October 5, 2021, pp 1-2, American Trucking Associations, Inc. 2) Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 3) Economics and Industry Data, 2022, American Trucking Associations, Inc 4) IRU Global Driver Shortage Report 2022 - Summary.pdf, page 14 5) Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 6) IRU Global Driver Shortage Report 2022 - Summary.pdf, page 18 7) Spotlight on Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, P 10 8) The Truth About Trucking Turnover, 2022, American Trucking Association Blog 9) ATA 2022 Driver Compensation Study: Advanced Executive Summary, American Trucking Associations, Inc