The American Trucking Associations put out another edition of its periodic truck driver shortage report this week, once again warning of dire consequences for the trucking industry.
The nation is short more than 60,000 drivers, and the deficit is going to grow, the ATA says. Trucking moves about $700 billion of cargo in the U.S. annually. Labor shortages in the industry could hurt economic growth.
The report repeats its description of a market dynamic that is years old. Most people just don’t want to drive trucks. It’s almost impossible to get young people into the industry.
Those facts are no surprise. Trucking has structural issues. Few people want to drive all day in a world increasingly beset by heavy traffic and driver distractions. Who wants to spend long hours at work, far from home and family? A federal government initiative to cut down on truckers exceeding their daily driving-time limits is good for safety but reduces driver earnings. The industry has a bad reputation. How many moms aspire for their children to grow up and become truckers?
But the driver shortage drumbeat also is a bit like crying wolf.
Most economists say the labor imbalance has an easy solution: higher pay. Anyone remember the nursing shortage? Better pay and working conditions seem to have cured that. Anyone talking about a coder shortage? No. Instead, companies complain about how much they have to pay to attract qualified coders.
All the trucking industry has to do is make pay and working conditions good enough to drag workers from other industries.
Drivers seem to understand that. They don’t have a big lobbying group like the ATA, but they certainly have opinions. Here are two:
Is there really a shortage? The short answer is there is not now, nor has there ever been, a truck driver shortage. However, there certainly is a shortage of carriers willing to pay enough to attract drivers and improve the workplace culture to retain them.
“Over the past 11 years the ATA has put out these media blitz campaigns to claim there is a critical truck driver shortage. It is in turn a call for more student truck drivers who are poorly trained, work for very cheap and are generally churned through the system so quickly they are likely not retained past one year.
“What we should be talking about is how the turnover rate in truck driver training fleets can be so high, nearly double the industry average of about 97 percent, according to court documents from two different training fleets. The industry ignores this safety issue. You cannot produce a qualified driver in such a failed system of training. Furthermore, those who do make it past one year often find the long, unpaid work hours and living conditions do not justify doing the work. We are chasing our tails to continue listening to what the ATA has to say about the mythical driver shortage.
- Desiree Ann Wood, a trucker and president of Real Women in Trucking Inc.
There always have been enough new drivers entering the industry. However, there is a deficiency on the part of the carriers to retain these drivers.
The fact that there is not a driver shortage can be confirmed by the assessment in the recent Department of Labor statistic labor review, which in so many words stated that long hours and insufficient wages are a major reason for drivers not being retained.
Driver wages do not reflect the skills, sacrifices and long hours which drivers experience and possess. You can’t be paid by the mile and regulated by a clock.
As long as drivers are continued to be paid for the amount of pieces they can produce only, and not for all their time, which far exceeds the average U.S. employee work hour week, there will be an industry-induced churn resulting in the perceived driver shortage.
A near 100 percent turnover rate reflects a severe problem within trucking. However, rather than address this, the industry would rather bring in more drivers to keep up with the continuous turnover. The industry doesn’t address the inability to retain their drivers.
The industry has refused to address the problem creating the perceived driver shortage. It should be paying drivers for their time, not just their miles driven. If they did this, the turnover rate would decline, retention would rise, and there would no longer be a reason to declare driver shortage.
The driver shortage will be resolved only when drivers receive wages which demonstrate a fair reflection of their skill, sacrifice and long hours, and they are valued for all their time.
In my opinion, this is not what trucking wants, however. They want to continue to bring in more drivers at low wages and keep the churn going. This is clearly demonstrated by their desire to bring in 18-year-olds to drive over-the-road interstate. It’s just one more naive and vulnerable segment to exploit.
- Allen Smith, owner of Truth About Trucking LLC and AskTheTrucker.com
Editor’s note: Jerry Hirsch is editor-in-chief of Trucks.com.
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