Trucking Industry Running Low on Long-Haul Drivers

Driver turnover in the long-haul trucking business is creating big problems for fleet managers and companies that rely on shipping products and materials across long distances. A dramatic — and increasing — shortfall of drivers is also having an impact on the cost of consumer products, especially as the economy recovers and demand for goods goes up.

“Trucking accounts for how we move 80 percent of cargo in our nation,” said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, according to The Huffington Post. “If we don’t have enough workers, it’s going to be slower and more costly to move products. If I can’t move as much product to the shelves as I want to, the cost to consumers goes up.”

U.S. companies are expected to create more than 115,000 truck driver jobs per year through 2016, but the number of Americans getting trained to fill those jobs each year is barely 10 percent of the total demand, said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics.

According to CNN Money, trucking companies are currently operating with a shortage of about 30,000 drivers, which could increase to 100,000 due to needs for additional drivers as new hours of service (HOS) rules and widespread use of EOBRs settle in. Given the current economy and high unemployment rates, the difficulty of finding and hiring qualified drivers is surprising some hiring managers in the trucking industry.

Others say they saw it coming. Many blame the new HOS guidelines that limit driver earnings due to the current pay structure, while some say the biggest problems center on the tough working conditions. Here are ideas for how companies can retain drivers and recruit new ones.

Retaining drivers

Driver retention has become a debilitating problem for trucking companies, and the situation seems to only be getting worse. In an article titled “What To Do About The Truck Driver Shortage,” Randy Clark points out some problems with driver retention in the modern trucking industry. Among the issues he highlights are low pay, the lack of healthy work-life balance, health risks and low prestige of a trucking career.

Low pay

Considering the sacrifices truckers make to be away from home for days or weeks at a time and that pay is based on number of miles covered in an increasingly regulated work environment that limits earning potential, many young people who may consider driving professionally as a trucker are simply not willing to do this work for the approximately $30,000 that new drivers earn.

Work-life imbalance

New HOS regulations and installation of EOBRs, which automatically monitor drive times and breaks, are designed to curb the extra-long hours that drivers stay on the road. But still, a driver is permitted to drive for 60 hours in a seven-day work week. Putting in this kind of time over an extended period doesn’t allow for much more off-the-clock activity than eating and sleeping.

Health risks

As an occupational hazard, commercial trucking can be tough on drivers’ health. Lack of exercise, food choices and irregular mealtimes, the uninterrupted hours of sitting, and other work environment factors contribute to a higher incidence of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other illnesses among drivers when compared to the general population.

Low prestige

Back in the cultural heyday of trucking, drivers were perceived as iconic American free spirits. Today’s young people just don’t seem to be as interested in life on the road. The prestige of trucking as an occupation seems to be a liability when younger candidates consider trucking along with other types of jobs.

Fleet management

A high-quality fleet management system can help companies minimize foreseeable road hazards and prioritize safe working conditions for drivers, mechanics and other critical staff — which tends to improve employee satisfaction and overall retention. EOBRs, efficient maintenance schedules and other efforts to make the jobs of drivers and other employees as hassle-free as possible can send an important message that the company respects and appreciates its employees, while also maximizing efficiencies and profit. High internal morale usually leads to greater productivity and less churn.

Attract new drivers

Recruiting new qualified drivers is a matter of survival for many businesses that rely on transporting goods and materials. Here are some ideas for attracting talent:

Offset costs of training

To qualify for a job in trucking, candidates need to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which can require a month or more of training and several thousand dollars. Companies that reimburse new drivers for this expense and ease the burden on their time to complete the training may win the loyalty of prospective drivers.

Offer competitive health benefits

Given the health risks of trucking, companies that offer affordable and comprehensive medical coverage for employees and their families can gain a competitive advantage over other hiring companies. Along with this coverage, driver-friendly companies must also provide employees with adequate motivation and time off to go see a doctor, particularly for preventative care, and to refill prescriptions.

Increase pay

To make the job of trucking more attractive to young people who are entering the workforce or looking for new opportunities, higher pay can potentially make a dramatic difference. Even if boosting the salary takes resources away from other items in your overall operating budget, keep in mind that your drivers are truly your most valuable resource. Without drivers, your fleet is parked.

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Matt Herndon

Matt Herndon is a dad and husband who loves to write about almost anything, especially leadership development and family. He won't write about cats or politics. Connect with Matt.

Reader Interactions


  1. Benjamin Bellville says

    The main problem is over regulation. The allure of long haul trucking is the flexibility to make stops at destinations of your choosing when you want to as long as the job gets done. Driving for companies that have electronic logs forces you to stop at places where your hours end for the day which usually means a truck stop,rest area or customer rather than someplace you have a better chance to actually get away from the truck and have some fun.

    After that the problem is pay. To sacrifice having any sort of normal life should pay a premium meaning an actual higher rate of pay per mile or % of the load. Instead companies falsely advertise that long haul pays a premium when in reality they mean long haul allows more driving time per year which can equate to a higher overall income but you are still getting paid often less per mile than regional drivers who are home more often. Makes absolutely no sense so most people opt for the regional or local driving.



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