Ageing truck driver workforce: How to overcome driver shortage

That's one of the ways to replace the 100,000-odd retiring truckers.  

That's one of the ways to replace the 100,000-odd retiring truckers.  

The truck driver shortage has been unrelenting, especially since 2011.

At the time of Great Recession, freight volumes dropped, and the industry could meet the demand with fewer drivers. But when volumes recovered in 2011, the driver shortage became apparent.

According to an analysis by DAT Solutions, just 1 truck was available for every 12 loads that need to be shipped in 2018. The ATA expects that every year the industry would need to hire 100,000 drivers every year to keep up with the avalanche of retirement numbers.

And that’s a problem – because truckers are the life-line for all commerce in the United States.

But first, let’s understand:

Why does America have so many aged drivers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average age of a commercial truck driver in the U.S. is 55 years old. The number of truckers entering the profession in the 60s and 70s tended to stick to it because trucking was considered to be a coveted profession. “America loved and respected its truckers a lot more back then,” wrote Gregg Blair for Overdrive Online. Trucks were cool, and its drivers were the modern-day cowboys and knights in shining armour all rolled into one -  hauling important shipments across states. .

And guess what? They were very well paid too! 

Adjusting to inflation, truckers were making over $110,000 in the 80s.

What happened then?

After the deregulation of the trucking industry in the late 70s, competition increased, wages got slashed and the risks that trucking industry would once take was transferred to truckers.

Over the next three decades, trucking went from being an aspirational profession to one of desperation. While the older folk continued to stay, the new entrants dwindled.

A low pay (about $40,000/annum) and general perception aside, there are other factors that prevent people from considering trucking as a profession.

What’s stopping everyone from joining the workforce?

A mandated minimum of 21 years for a commercial trucking license to cross inter-state lines means a 3-year gap after schooling. Most of them start working early and cannot switch careers later, making this job less appealing to the younger generation. Additionally, current costs to acquire licenses (anywhere between $3,000 and $7,000 for the entire program) make it unwieldy for most of them.

Male centric culture - While women account for over 47% of the total blue-collar workforce in United States, just about 6-7% of drivers are women in this industry. Even today, an inherent bias exists in hiring, training and assigning trips to women. A lack of appropriate infrastructure and environment have also contributed to keeping women drivers at bay.

Lack of motivation and terrible lifestyle – Truckers, be it men or women, lack interpersonal contact for days on end – something that can also be hard on marriages. They rarely get home time, and are prone to substance abuse. The extended hours of sedentary work, sleeping at odd hours and adhering to tight deadlines worsens mental and physical health. 

How to increase trucker recruitment funnel:

Target migrant population:

Find ways to appeal to them, train them, and make it an attractive career for them. Working on messaging, showcasing success stories of migrant could go a long way.

As of 2012, nearly 30 percent of foreign-born drivers were from Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet republics and Europe, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. There is a lot of scope for that number to climb higher.

Here’s also another reason why you should hire migrants: Migrant truckers have acknowledged that the bond between migrant truckers is much stronger than those between American drivers. A sense of community is fostered that allows them to depend on each other at good times and bad. This  sense of community holds employees together making it less likely to jump ship to other industries or competitors.

What you can do:

1.     Use the internet intelligently: Employ Google search-engine optimization, improve organic search ranking by putting out helpful content for aspirants from this demography.

2.     Paid ads, better branding, personal interviews with drivers, should be designed so as to appeal to this demography. 

Encourage more women to join the workforce:

Lille Elizabeth McGee had to battle the prejudice and sexism – right from becoming the first woman commercial driver in the United States all the way to owning a trucking firm in the industry.

That was two decades ago. Things seemed to have changed little since then. Reports of an unsafe working environment and discriminatory hiring practices are making sure that disregard from trucking as a viable career option.

As Ellen Voie, founder of the “Women In Trucking Association” says:

Instead of ignoring the fact that men and women are physically and emotionally different, let’s embrace the differences and work on making the environment better for all drivers. This means we need to look at our hiring and training practices more closely.

What you can do:

1.     Establish processes and systems to make yourself a women-friendly workplace – These processes should beyond just hiring practices. Facilitate a same-gender trainer, provide information beforehand on women-friendly pit stops and rest-lounges, set up a crisis helpline, make arrangement for separate toilets.

2.     Post job ads on boards that have a predominantly large woman population viewership, such as Pinterest and Instagram.

3.     Procure trucks with shorter leg-lengths and smaller bodies, so as to make driving comfortable for them. 

Change perception to increase hiring funnel

Trucking needs to be made cool again. A sure shot way to do this is to make  existing employees happy and excited about their job.

When word about this spreads, your company will not only have happy employees that want to stay, but also newbies who would readily consider joining your company. 

So, to making employees happy, one needs to tackle issues they constantly complain about on social media: zero connect with the company, friction with managers, little or no concern about dwindling mental health. 

Companies can combat this effectively by setting up a robust communication channel, that:

1.     Keeps them updated on the company’s day-to-day progress.

2.     Reduces the manager-employee disconnect by setting up communication standards.

3.     Spreads awareness and offers help on mental health issues.

When this is done at scale, drivers will no longer look at a company as their  ruthless taskmaster. Instead, it’ll be a company that they want to refer their friends and relatives. You can do this by using tools such as Noticeboard. Change an employee's perception of your company, make them a part of something aspirational.    

By changing your staff’s perception of their company, word will soon spread about its employee-friendly policies. . You then have a far higher chance of attracting the right kind of candidates with your existing army of truck drivers.

Trucking was cool, once upon a time. It’s time that perception is brought back.