The heart of the matter

May 13, 2014
Working together, fleets and shippers can find ways to attract drivers

When you examine the many issues facing the trucking industry—rising fuel prices, ever-increasing equipment sticker prices, more regulations, plus congested and crumbling roadways—nothing stands out more than this salient fact: driving and maintaining trucks for a living is not only something fewer and fewer people want to do, it’s being actively discouraged even among those within trucking itself.

Phil Byrd, president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express and current chairman of the American Trucking Assns. trade group, addressed this topic head-on during his keynote address at the 2014 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting back in March.  “How many of you here would want your sons and daughters or nieces and nephews to become truck drivers and technicians?” he asked of the several hundred TMC attendees in the audience.  “I see a couple of hands raised and I applaud you.  But I say to you ... that this is a problem for our industry.”

The problem, of course, isn’t easily solved.  If fleet executives and managers won’t recommend the two most vital trucking jobs to their families, how can they go out and recruit others to do the work?  Paul Newbourne, senior vice president-operations for Pittsburgh-based Armada Supply Chain Solutions, touched on this very same problem in a recent conference call with reporters.

“I doubt anyone on this call is encouraging their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other relatives to be truck drivers,” he said matter-of-factly.  “The biggest issues to finding and keeping drivers remain compensation rates and the lifestyle,” Newbourne noted.  “But every carrier I’ve spoken with also highlights the often unprofessional treatment of their drivers by shipper and receiver personnel—the rude treatment, the lack of access to bathrooms and vending machines for food at the dock.  They restrict truck engine idle time but make no other provisions available for drivers to keep warm or stay cool, especially in extreme weather.”

Armada is trying to lead by example, so it has addressed these issues at its  warehouses and terminals.  “We’ve put together a facilities attribute list so when we build a new location,  we include such amenities as a driver’s lounge as well as safe truck parking space for rest breaks or overnight stays,” Newbourne said. 

He noted that wait time at docks remains a huge issue for both carriers and truck drivers alike as it reduces asset utilization for the trucking company and reduces pay for drivers.  In some cases, Newbourne noted, efforts on the part of shippers and receivers to reduce and eliminate wait time—often via moving to drop and hook style operations—can actually reduce their freight costs overall.  In many instances, carriers forgo rate increases if it translates into more availability for their drivers and equipment to haul revenue-producing loads.

“Carriers don’t want detention fees; they want their drivers rolling up and down the road hauling freight ... and that’s what the drivers want as well,” he explained.  “Collaboration that drives efficiencies for carriers, shippers and receivers alike—that delivers economic benefit to everyone—is what can solve many problems.”

By extension, then, if such collaborative efforts are focused on making the life and the pay of the truck driver better, while providing economic benefit to their employers and customers alike, perhaps the ongoing shortage of truck drivers could be lessened, along with the bitter wrangling over low pay and work conditions.

Sean Kilcarr is Fleet Owner’ s senior editor. He can be reached at skilcarr@fleet­own­

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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