A radical suggestion

Here's an impractical proposal for solving the driver shortagePerspective is everything. Many fleets have few problems attracting and retaining drivers, and in their view there is no driver shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment in trucking and warehousing grew nearly 5% last year, which far outstripped the country's overall employment growth. And the bureau predicts that

Here's an impractical proposal for solving the driver shortage

Perspective is everything. Many fleets have few problems attracting and retaining drivers, and in their view there is no driver shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment in trucking and warehousing grew nearly 5% last year, which far outstripped the country's overall employment growth. And the bureau predicts that driving a truck will be one of the fastest growing occupations for at least the next few years. Someone is putting those drivers to work.

Whether truckload carriers characterize it as a retention problem or a failure to attract new prospects, they clearly see a driver shortage as the most persistent problem threatening their business health. The industry as a whole may be putting more people behind the wheel, but truckload carriers can't seem to hire enough of those new drivers to handle their growing freight volumes.

Higher mileage rates and better benefits have helped some with turnover, as have smarter dispatch systems that boost loaded miles and make it easier to schedule time at home. Still, that portion of the trucking industry continues to search for some way to increase its overall pool of drivers.

A few weeks ago we received an unsigned e-mail that suggested that the real answer to the driver shortage might require a more fundamental change in the way TL carriers do business. Unsigned messages are usually the work of someone with an axe to grind, but this one avoided name calling and made some points that, while radical, are at least worth a public airing.

"How difficult would it be to recruit factory workers for a 70- to 80-hour week with no overtime compensation?" this "Concerned Member of the Trucking Industry" asked. "Now imagine these workers being required to sit around for another 30 or 40 hours before they even start getting paid." From that perspective, it's a testament to trucking's allure that it has any drivers at all in our current booming economy.

The solution, says Anonymous, is to pay TL drivers by the hour with overtime and to pass waiting costs on to shippers.

I can hear the howls already. Shippers won't pay and operating ratios are already too thin to support such a pay scheme. Still, what does turnover really cost? Whatever number you come up with, truckload fleets are finding a way to cover it, even though turnover approaches the 100% mark for many of them. And then there's the cost of lost freight because there's no one to move it.

I'll admit that Anonymous sounds a bit extreme and more than a bit unrealistic, but most outside of the TL business do pay by the hour, and seem generally successful at adding the drivers they need. Our e-mail author says the TL industry "needs to change its paradigm or nothing will change." And nothing changes unless we're at least willing to talk about even the most improbable suggestions.

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