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DRIVER SATISFACTION SURVEY: Can you piece it together?

P eel your eyes away from the latest sobering reports about the North American economy's downward spiral. Set the disturbing data showing up in your own financial performance records aside for a minut...

Peel your eyes away from the latest sobering reports about the North American economy’s downward spiral. Set the disturbing data showing up in your own financial performance records aside for a minute. Put down your fuel price index forecast. These pressing issues can’t possibly get worse in the time it takes for you to read this report, and you can probably use the break.

Think instead, about a year into the future, when the North American economy begins to rebound. After two successive years of depressed freight volumes and rates, you’ll want your company to be quick to take advantage of the growth in loads. Don’t forget, comparisons between the performance of the North American economy and that of trucking routinely show that trucking is a first-in, first out industry; we’re among the first to feel the impact of a slowing economy as shippers reduce their inventories and among the first to participate in the recovery, as shippers begin to rebuild their inventories in anticipation of improved future sales. So the change in demand for your services will likely come sooner than for most other industries.

What’s the most basic issue likely to interfere with your company’s ability to fully seize the opportunities of the economic rebound that’s sure to come? It’s the same issue that greatly interfered with motor carrier growth plans during the last economic upturn of 2003 to 2006; the same issue our industry has proven unable to resolve for at least two decades now: the shortage of qualified drivers.

Back in 2006, at the tail end of the continent’s economic expansion, extensive CTHRC research found that almost 60% of industry employers considered the driver shortage as one of their top two concerns, up from the 50% who said likewise in 2002. The research showed industry employers had good reason to be worried as job vacancy rates increased to 12.3%, compared to the 9.6% vacancy rate identified four years previous. Such a high job vacancy rate translated into an immediate need for 12,000 new drivers of tractor trailers.

With carriers pulling out of marginally profitable lanes, cancelling new truck orders and parking existing equipment right now (it’s a safe bet that at least 100,000 trucks have been taken off the North American market this year, due to company failures), the shortage of qualified drivers has hardly been mentioned the last couple of years. No doubt the job vacancy rate has declined. But we should not be lulled into a false sense of security about the driver population. This is a problem sure to return -with a vengeance.

Providing fleet managers with the insights necessary to better understand how to attract and retain their driver force is the key objective of the Driver Satisfaction Survey we have conducted the last three years in partnership with CTHRC. The data we mine may be key to helping you stay one step ahead of the competition in securing your most valuable resource.

This year’s data revealed the continuation of several worrying trends and one disturbing, but not surprising, new development. Our research, in combination with other research conducted by the CTHRC, lead us to conclude that, despite the current respite in the driver shortage, the problem over the long term is getting worse, not better.

Most glaring in this year’s data is the drop in job satisfaction down to 3.48 out of 5, as opposed to 3.66 last year. (see figure 7) Whereas last year’s (and the year before that too) job satisfaction rate could be considered a solid “B”, 3.48 is just a decent “C”. And while almost two-thirds described themselves to be either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” in their driving jobs the past two years, only slightly more than half said likewise this time around. A full fifth of the people behind the wheel now consider themselves either “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” in their jobs.

As with the previous two surveys, the satisfaction level between company drivers and owner/operators is virtually identical.

Driving a truck is already a physically demanding and sometimes mentally taxing job given the long hours, paperwork, road congestion and dealing with multiple shippers, receivers and enforcement authorities. But add in the stunted pay-cheques, bonuses and pay increases that are a given during any economic downturn (our research found that a bonus was part of the compensation package for only half of our respondents this year, compared to 56% the previous year –see figure 5), it’s not surprising that job satisfaction has taken a sudden dip in the wrong direction. But it is a development that bears watching, particularly because of the problems the industry typically has in attracting new blood. Simply put, if you can’t hire them any faster than you lose them, you’ve got a real situation on your hands.

The CTHRC research we previously referred to found that the hiring of new employees in trucking lagged behind the rate at which drivers were being lost. New hires were accounting for 17.6% of the workforce, compared to the share of drivers who quit (13.3%), were terminated (8%), or retired (3.2%). That last reason for losing drivers is sure to gain in importance as well. The average age of the owner/operators responding to our survey was 51; the average driver was 48.

Retirement rates, according to the CTHRC research have increased three fold since 2002.

To identify which aspects of the job the men and women behind the wheel find most satisfying, and to zero in on the areas requiring improvement, we asked survey participants to rate their satisfaction with 12 different aspects of their job, ranging from pay and recognition to stress and growth opportunities with the company. This is what we found:

Rated highest at 3.67 was “the degree of respect and fair treatment” they felt they received from customers, a mark identical to last year’s and, as noted then, particularly pleasing considering that treatment at the hands of shippers used to be a particularly sore point not too long ago

Driving still requires a lot of independent thought and action and that is cherished. Satisfaction with that aspect of the job was ranked at 3.55.

Also rated highly were “the feeling of accomplishment” they get from doing their jobs (3.49 out of 5) and “the people” they work with (3.58 out of 5)

Of concern should be the dropping satisfaction levels our research found in several areas:

Respondents rated their satisfaction with “the amount of pay and benefits” they received at 3.28 out of 5, down from 3.3 the previous year.

At the same time, they rated their satisfaction with “the amount of stress” in their jobs at 2.94 out of 5, again a drop from the previous year’s 3.06 out of 5 rate.

Aside the stress levels, the other three aspects of their job they were particularly unsatisfied with included:

-The “amount of training and development” at 2.86;

-The “amount of recognition received for strong performance” at 2.97;

-And the “opportunity to grow with the company” at 2.63. In fact, that was the lowest satisfaction score given to the 12 different job aspects measured.

The responses to those last three aspects of the driving job show no improvement from the previous year. In fact, satisfaction with the amount of training provided and satisfaction with the opportunities to grow with the company show small declines.

Also showing no improvement from previous years are drivers’ satisfaction levels with their supervisors, which is often the most immediate source of conflict leading to job dissatisfaction – even the best intentions of a company president can be undone by a dispatcher that’s hard to get along with.

For the third year in a row, drivers scored their supervisors lowest when it came to asking for their opinion (3.10 out of 5). That was followed by their supervisor’s demonstrated ability to be “fair to all drivers” and “following up on concerns.” Supervisors’ ability to treat drivers with respect (3.72 out of 5) was the only area were supervisors received at least a “B” grade. (see figure 6)

Similarly there was negligible improvement, and in some cases slight deterioration, in the opinions drivers held of employer concerns in meeting a variety of driver needs, such as providing enough time to complete trips, providing adequate training in safety and new technologies, rewarding strong performance and seeking driver advice on equipment purchases. (see figure 4)

At some point dissatisfaction with the job, the pay, the supervisor, the hours, whatever, leads to turnover. Our survey asks drivers to list the main reasons they would consider working for another carrier. In each year of our survey, not surprisingly, better money is the most often cited reason with 85% of respondents admitting that thoughts of a fatter pay-cheque do make them consider alternative employment. Better benefits (53%) and better rewards (28%) round out the top three reasons cited. But incentives such as better career opportunities (29%) and better scheduling also rank in the top five. (see figure 8) Developing a career path as a way to improve retention is a facet of human resource strategy our research has highlighted the past two years, in part because the industry appears to have such a difficult time attracting young workers – only 16.7% of potential drivers taking their Class 1/A test are under the age of 25, a statistic compounded by the fact that drivers need to be 21 to cross the border and carry higher insurance costs when under 25.

Identifying a “career path” as a process by which drivers would move up through several levels of driving expertise, based on experience and driving performance, and then into other areas such as customer service, recruitment, safety, equipment spec’ing, dispatch, etc., with training provided, we asked a series of questions to determine how agreeable professional drivers were to such an idea. Once again, we found in general that professional drivers, company drivers in particular, were very receptive to the idea.

Company drivers scored the statement “It makes sense to create a career path for drivers that includes other responsibilities beyond driving a 4.12 out of 5 and the statement “I would support the creation of a career path for drivers a 4.08 out of 5

They scored the statement “A career path would allow me to contribute more to my company, beyond my driving skills a 3.96.

They thought a career path would make them feel better about their job as a driver, scoring that statement a 3.88 out of 5.

Of direct importance to retention, they scored the statement “A career path would make me feel more certain my employer cares about my long-term growth with the company” a 3.98 out of 5 and the statement “A career path would make me more interested in staying with the same company for a longer period of time” a 4.00 out of 5.

In most cases, the scores show a slightly lower interest in a career path than the previous year. We’re not certain what to make of this -perhaps it’s nothing more than a reflection of the sour mood caused by the economic downturn. And, as noted last year, the interest among professional drivers in a career path is not new. A study conducted by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute about a decade ago found 83% of drivers saw career advancement as important to them and two-thirds said they would be more satisfied with their job if it included a realistic career path.

Finding and retaining qualified drivers, although it may seem less of an issue at the moment, is certain to return as a major impediment to motor carrier growth plans. The historical evidence is just too strong to believe otherwise. Half the fleets interviewed for the CTHRC research back in 2006 reported facing a shortage of Class 1/A drivers and paying a direct price for the shortage. About 42% said the shortage affected their ability to move freight. Almost three quarters of them had to refuse or delay the movement of goods because of their inability to find drivers and almost 40% had to delay or cancel expansion plans. We’re likely just an economic uptick away from a return to such an unfortunate reality.

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4 Comments » for DRIVER SATISFACTION SURVEY: Can you piece it together?
  1. sonny o`hara says:

    i have 26 yrs. exp.,i have a job presently in hauling construction material it is very slow ,trying to find a job that pays close to what i get paid now,did 4 interviews in last 2 wks. same old story from every to pay you more,but yhe way industry it`s all we can afford,a 4 dollar an hour cut in pay is sugnificant,my trip to get to work cost more,hydro more,taxes on house goes up,things go up not wages i have 5 yrs. to retire can`t wait,it was a good profesion yrs ago,i did ok in the industry,parked my truck 3 yrs ago enough is enough

  2. CLINT MAR says:

    Sirs Just a few lines to the drivers who cant wait to retire. I was also employed in the trucking industy as a driver for over 50 years and hauled every thing you could get on a truck. Heavy Equipment,logs,Lumber,produce, dry bxes,LTL,TL. From San Diego to Anchorage. Vancouver to Montreal and all points in between Im 73 yrs old now took the early CPP at 62, 65 and because the companys i worked for did not have pensions or the ones that did lost the funds by bad investments, we have only the govt pensions an get a small suppliment from OAS. nOW IF I TRY TO WORK AND EARN a few exta dollers the govt.wants 50 cents on the doller in tax, if you cash in any kind of RRSP THEY DO THE SAME AND YOU CANNOT GET THE SUPPLIMENT CHECK IT OUT You might want to cash in you rrsps if you are over 55, PAY TODAYS TAX AND ENJOY YOURSELF because if you live to be over 71 they will claw it back oF yoour OAS SUPPLIMENT CLINT

  3. Kevin Brulotte says:

    Here we go again with that driver shortage nonsense! If there ever was a driver shortage the pay would be better to attract and keep drivers, there would not be nearly as many empty miles run, and the truck stops would not be full of empty trucks waiting for the next load to come about. The reality is that there are too many trucks for the amount of freight and not enough fools waiting by the phone to jump right now if a dispatcher calls. That is the way things have been for at least the last twenty four years and will always be that way unless there ever really is a driver shortage!

  4. angler says:

    The remarks that Clint Mar made are absolutely right.I could not have said it better.I understand this is the last year for anyone to get their CPP early, the government is closing that little loop hole.Drivers it’s long past the time we stand together. It’s time we get paid by the hour. These log book rules are a huge joke, drivers are still pushing themselves to the limit to make a living. case in point look at the amount of truck traffic in the medium any given week on the 401. Drivers push themselves way past the limit to beat traffic tie ups in the cities in the morning and afternoon.


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