Old problem, new ideas

March 1, 2013
Readers weigh in on solving the driver shortage

Given trucking’s chronic shortage of drivers and a desire to generate some fresh ideas on possible solutions, I challenged readers two months ago to send me their best suggestions no matter how far-fetched or impractical they might sound. And many of you responded, sometimes with ideas that offered practicality and thoughtfulness, other times with ones that surprised me with their offbeat take on the issue.

The most common suggestion involved the obvious—better pay. Perhaps Michelle M., who kept it short and sweet, put it best: “The answer is obvious. MONEY!!!”

Expanding a bit more on the topic, Richard F., a fleet executive, offered some definition on just how bad the pay issue is for new drivers. “How can one expect an individual to work 70 hours per week, 3,500 hours per year, and gross between $35,000 and $50,000 per year?” But from his perspective, raising that pay isn’t possible because carriers are accepting rates that just don’t cover operating costs.

Tim O., a trucking industry observer of many years, is a bit more skeptical about the reasoning behind stubbornly low driver wages and any movement to raise them. “I suppose, as usual, that raising driver pay is out of the question . . . Don’t see much about owners, execs and shareholders having to take cuts, but the industry insists on assuming that hours spent away from home but not actually ‘on duty’ are somehow not worth paying for. And that ‘piecework’ is a suitable way to determine compensation for a worker.”

However, Zack W., a logistics company executive, believes the free market will ultimately solve the pay problem. “If demand for truck drivers is high and the supply is low, the law of supply and demand dictates that driver pay will increase.

As wages go up, truck driving jobs will become more attractive.”

While better pay is widely accepted as one answer to ending the driver shortage, a number of you offered solid suggestions on expanding the pool of potential drivers by making the industry more attractive to two specific demographics: young people under the age of 21 and immigrants.

Carl S., who manages a municipal fleet, points out that kids who have a general fascination with trucks should be tapped by schools and industry to at least get them to consider a driving career. And Russ C., a recruiter, says one way around the 21-age barrier could be a national program to bring in 18-year-olds as local/intrastate drivers before they commit to other careers.

The other alternative is to open our borders to people who want to drive. Echoing a number of readers, fleet manager Donna G. says, “If Americans don’t want these jobs, give them to the people who do want them.” Perhaps the one suggestion that surprised me the most was to simply get rid of drivers all together.

A number of you pointed out that in this age of drones, we should consider autonomous vehicles controlled by drivers who never have to leave the comfort of an office and who can go home every night. In fact, Evan C. of New York is so high on the idea, he predicts, “The first carrier to get a fully autonomous truck authorized by the proper authorities will take over the entire industry.”

I’m not so sure I’d bet on that, but stranger things have come to pass. While we’re waiting for the drones, thanks for all the ideas, even those I didn’t have room to acknowledge, and please keep them coming. The email address is [email protected].

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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