A growing lack of truck parking may be 'the straw that breaks the camel's back' in terms of convincing drivers to leave the industry, says PGT Trucking's Mike Krohn. (Photo by Sean Kilcarr/Fleet Owner)

Figuring out how to find and keep workers in trucking

May 25, 2016
Fleets, drivers, and suppliers discuss recruiting and retention challenges at ALK summit.

Pay is far more important to drivers than trucking likes to admit. Motor carriers may need to create new job titles and emphasize breadth of responsibility in order to attract and keep Millennials in administrative roles. A major “generation gap” exists between older and younger truck drivers, especially in regards to technology, but both pools suffer from poor training and management tactics.

Those are just some of the major issues touched on by a variety of panels and breakout sessions during the 2016 ALK Technology Summit, held in Philadelphia, PA, this week.

“Pay is the biggest area motor carriers gloss over today,” explained Mike Khron, vice president of operations for PGT Trucking. “Pay is considerably more important to drivers than we give them credit for; I think carriers miss the boat about it.”

He added that the current level of national unemployment level of 5% means workers have “many more options” than driving a truck. “And [diver] pay has not gone up with inflation, let alone in comparison to other occupations,” Khron said.

Lindsey England, director of human resources for Pride Transport, added that driver “is just not high enough” in terms of all the difficulties they face on a daily basis. “We also tend to forget that is a human being in there” behind the wheel, she explained. “We need to put ourselves in their shoes.”

Khron noted that means changing how drivers – especially younger, more inexperienced drivers – are treated in the industry. “As soon as they make a mistake, we’ve got a tendency to bounce them out,” he said. “Instead of using that mistake as a learning opportunity, as a chance to make an improvement, we’re getting rid of them and most of the time they end up being lost to the industry. We need to treat them differently than we treated their parents.”

Todd Warner (seen at right), COO of online contact work marketplace Blue Bloodhound, pointed out that such issues are making the driver shortage more acute as 41% of drivers want a better work/life balance while 50% are dissatisfied by “inconsistent” work hours and pay.

That’s resulted in what Warner calls a “chaotic situation” where the industry is short some 50,000 drivers per day based on current freight volumes; a number expected to rise to 250,000 by 2020 if nothing is changed.

“It takes 60 days on average to bring on a driver, costing [a fleet] anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per driver,” Warner added. “Consider also that Millennials will work no longer than 3.2 years for one employer before moving on to another job.”

That’s one reason why Lauren Howard (at far right in photo at left), president of truckload operations at Celadon Group, suggested that a new approach is needed as to how the industry crafts titles and descriptions for its entire workforce, not just truck drivers.

“The perception is that trucking ‘is not sexy’ and so [younger] workers don’t see the full gamut of opportunities this industry can offer,” she explained. “Millennials are expected to have 10 different jobs by the age of 40 so we’re trying to change the expectations so they can see a clearer path of progression.”

For example, Celadon is changing the job title of its data clerks to “customer relationship analysts” and stresses that such positions are individually responsible for between $7 million and $10 million worth of business. From there they proceed to “senior level” analyst and are assigned mentoring duties, then are positioned to jump into management-level positions based on job performance.

Howard said such job titles – especially when the word “analyst” is added in – are important for retaining younger workers for the long haul.

“Millennials want to be part of a process; they want constant feedback and a career path or they will jump jobs,” Howard noted. “They are also less concerned overall with pay and more about how their work and company connects to the community. We need to leverage that.”

Allie Knight, a driver for Jim Palmer Trucking and YouTube star, said that a major “generational gap” exists between younger and older drivers, especially in terms of in-cab technology use.

“We’ve been brought up on technology; we expect it to be there,” she said. “It’s important; it is how I get my loads, get in touch with dispatch, track my MPG [miles per gallon] per load. I’m interested in all the ‘stupid little numbers’ because that will help me make myself better.”

[Knight files video reports from the road detailing her channels via her YouTube channel as the clip below shows.]

Knight stressed, though that other aspects of the industry – especially driver training and orientation – need to “evolve” and evolve quickly.

“I toughed out five weeks of driver training because I wanted to drive so bad,” Knight, who has been driving tractor-trailers for just two years, explained. “During orientation you are in a room for 2 days straight and you’re getting all of this important information thrown at you; but you can only retain so much.”

She pointed out that the “lifestyle” of truck driving is what attracted her to the business – “I love to travel!” – allowing her to visit all lower 48 U.S. states in just 6 months. Yet she left two motor carriers before joining Jim Palmer because she disliked being “treated like a number” and having things changed without telling her, such as being assigned a new dispatcher with no forewarning.

“The Jim Palmer recruiters called me every day, even during orientation; that showed someone cared. That gave you someone to talk to when things were not going well,” Knight said. “That plus being given a comfortable truck, which is my home on the road, is an important part of that culture change. I feel like I am part of a team; that I am making a difference.”

Katie Talcott, vice president and general manager of solo drivers for Transport America, noted that the growing numbers of female drivers in the industry – some 4% of Transport America’s drivers are now female, she pointed out – is but one indicator that the industry is undergoing big change.

“They are bringing a new aspect to the industry, just as are the military veterans we are recruiting,” Talcott said. “We’re also trying to be more brutally honest about the challenges [of the job] up front.”

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.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees and Risks

Fleets looking to effectively manage their operational costs should consider their tolling costs. Download the PrePass whitepaper, “Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees...

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...