Keeping drivers

Nov. 8, 2012
Debunk the myths and attack the driver retention problem

Driver turnover and retention in the trucking industry seems to be at an all-time high. The myth: Training more truckers will solve the driver shortage problem.

Putting more unsuspecting, newly trained truckers on the road won’t solve the retention problem. If any other industry had annual employee turnover exceeding 100%, industry leaders would demand major changes.

The fabrication: Some industry organizations and large carriers are perpetuating the myth that there’s a shortage of qualified, trained truckers.

The truth is, many large carriers fail rudimentary principles of employee-contractor management. For example, lease-purchase plans put most of the fiscal responsibility on the trucker’s shoulders, and when he/she fails, the carrier not only loses a good, qualified driver, but goes immediately into the costly new-recruit cycle again. It costs about $20,000 to replace a trucker and that includes administrative costs, advertising, recruiting, and bringing the new driver to the point of generating a positive cash flow. This all contributes to a major money leak.

The reality: There are millions of unemployed Americans, but the estimated truck driver shortage is nearly five times what it was in 2006. Doesn’t this show, statistically, that truck driving is no longer a desirable or sufficiently compensated occupation?

Years ago, during the first “driver shortage,” Professors John E. Delery, Ph.D., and Nina Gupta, Ph.D., of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, polled the human resources departments of several carriers for their report on Motor Carrier Effectiveness. They were very interested in learning what was required to reduce the massive truck driver turnover rate to a more manageable level.

They found that drivers wanted reasonable pay for all the time and work required to manage a truck on the road, consistent pay from week to week, and regularly scheduled time at home.

This study has been virtually ignored by the industry.

The solution: The problem has many parts, but so does the solution. First, truckers should be compensated for 100% of the time they’re on the road, as they are responsible for a carrier’s truck or trailer regardless of whether it’s loaded or empty, rolling down the highway, sitting at a dock, or waiting for dispatch. This could be a combination of per-day pay plus mileage, or straight hourly pay, or straight salary.

Next, set up specific freight lanes for each trucker that generate about the same revenue week after week, thus creating consistent pay. Finally, structure these lanes so the trucker completes his primary outbound load at or near his residence. If he needs to wait for a load back to where the primary freight is located, he’s at home.

Carriers want good, professional drivers for the long term. Truckers want to be paid fairly and consistently, get home regularly, and be respected by those in their chosen industry.

As long as large carriers continue to erroneously figure driver retention is somehow losing more money for them than turnover, they’ll continue recruiting and training new drivers. And the “driver shortage” will only worsen.

Let’s stop talking and start solving this problem.

About the Author

Timothy Brady

Timothy Brady is an author, columnist, speaker and business coach who provides information, training and educational presentations for small to large trucking companies, logistics organizations and community groups. He’s the business editor for American Trucker Magazine, the “Answer Guy” for trucking education website TruckersU.com, an author and business editor for Write Up The Road Publishing & Media and freelance journalist. An expert in crafting solutions to industry challenges after 25 years in trucking, Brady’s held positions from company driver to owner-operator to small trucking business owner. Along with sales and business management, he has a well-rounded wealth of experience and knowledge.

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