The driver shortage remains an ongoing issue in the trucking industry, ranking second in the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2022 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report. Truck drivers play a vital role in the supply chain; responsible for the transport of over 70% of the goods moved within the United States. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) assert that the trucking industry faces a shortage of 80,000 drivers. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), however, attributes low wages and poor working conditions as contributing to a turnover rate of 90% or higher, calling into question if a driver shortage is the problem or if the real issue is retention.
With older drivers retiring and challenges keeping new talent in the industry, the first order of business should be addressing why existing workers are at risk of leaving their jobs. To better ensure driver retention, the industry must be willing to embrace change and explore new ways to improve the overall work experience.
Set drivers up for success
Drivers in many cases receive insufficient training to prepare them for the challenges of the job. A fully loaded semi-truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, requiring specialized skills to operate properly and safely, especially when traveling at high speeds surrounded by other vehicles. Yet the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has low training requirements for truck drivers entering the profession.
When releasing its 2016 updated training standards, FMCSA ultimately decided to do away with imposing a requirement for truck drivers to spend a minimum number of hours behind the wheel to be considered eligible for commercial driving. Instead, drivers must score a minimum of an 80% on a theory assessment, designed to measure skill level.
The low barriers to entry enable a broader group of individuals to become drivers but without a demonstrated ability to operate a commercial vehicle in real-world conditions, this means there are drivers on the road who are sorely inexperienced.
A hunger for profit can push employers to place unrealistic expectations on drivers, putting them in a situation where the only way they can comply is to violate federal hours of service rules. Unrealistic expectations can wear on anyone over time, but when placed on inexperienced individuals who aren’t seasoned enough to understand their rights, it can be catastrophic. Companies can set drivers up for success and alleviate stress by providing them with education that will truly help them on the road, like sharpening their quick thinking and decision-making skills, and providing driver expectations that fall within the parameters of federal guidelines for driving hours.
Build a culture of professionalism
The primary factor that causes people to quit in any workplace is a toxic work environment, which is characterized by workers feeling disrespected, abusive managers and a cutthroat environment. Lack of recognition is another reason some workers have cited as a valid reason to change jobs. In the trucking industry, workplace culture is an area that can go a long way toward improving morale among drivers.
Reports show that a major reason so many drivers are leaving their trucking jobs is the way they’re treated. It’s challenging to stay motivated to continue doing a time-consuming and tiresome job when day in and day out your hard work goes unnoticed, or worse, is ridiculed. I’ve spoken with drivers who’ve been yelled at, berated or made to feel like a replaceable cog in the wheel. If this type of behavior is unacceptable in an office environment, why do we allow it in the trucking industry? Making truck drivers feel valued and respected in their workplace is a critical step to inspire them to stay in their jobs.
Advocate for Mental Health
During the pandemic, many Americans experienced firsthand the detrimental emotional impact of too much solitude. Long-haul truck driving for a living requires extended hours of isolation away from home and families, often for days or weeks at a time. These factors can contribute to mental health issues – depression and anxiety are the two most highly reported mental health disorders in the industry.
The aforementioned driver inexperience combined with the high level of pressure that is placed upon many truck drivers is a recipe for mental distress and sets drivers up for swift burnout. It’s critical for trucking companies to have strategies in place for managing and improving the mental health of their drivers. Waiting until drivers are in crisis mode is not an effective strategy. Managing mental health for truck drivers requires a proactive approach, talking openly with drivers about the signs of depression. Make mental health resources available, and advocate for their use. Do regular check-ins, asking drivers how they’re doing and proactively offer support so as to normalize the practice of taking good mental care of oneself and reduce stigma.
Teamwork makes the supply chain work
Like every profession, trucking has its challenges. Thankfully, a lot of those challenges have solutions, we just need to proactively show our workers they’re valued and an irreplaceable part of our team.
Ninety-six percent of Americans believe truck drivers are essential to our economy – without them to deliver the goods we rely on, life as we know it would come to a grinding halt. Instead of focusing on the driver shortage, let’s do a better job of retaining the millions of drivers who have already chosen this profession. Making drivers feel heard, actively addressing their concerns and improving their overall work experience can go a long way in keeping drivers on the road – and attracting new ones – for the long haul.