When it comes to a problem that has lingered as long and proven as difficult to solve as has the professional driver shortage, it's best to start with the good news. The fact the national driver turno...
When it comes to a problem that has lingered as long and proven as difficult to solve as has the professional driver shortage, it’s best to start with the good news. The fact the national driver turnover rate in Canada has dropped down to 22% compared to 36% in 2002, according to research published by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council this summer, is indication that motor carriers are becoming more sophisticated in their human resource practices.
However, losing more than a fifth of your professional drivers every year is not something that can be ignored, particularly in an industry facing a job vacancy rate of 12.3% and retirement rates that have increased three-fold over the past five years. The CTHRC research found that most licensed drivers who work for more than a year (84%) will change employers at least once in a span of five years. The average driver will have 2.9 employers during that time. Our Driver Satisfaction Survey found the average driver to have been behind the wheel of a transport truck for 23 years and to have worked for five different companies – in other words, a new employer every 4.6 years. (Although it should be noted they had been with their current employer about 8 years.)
As the CTHRC research indicates, the hiring of new employees continues to lag behind the rate at which existing drivers are lost. It’s also important to note that research shows that turnover rates vary from region to region. In British Columbia, for example, turnover rates are affected by a higher-than-average retirement rate and a relatively high “quit” rate. A large number of job vacancies in the Prairies (14.9%) can be linked to a greater likelihood that drivers will quit. And while Ontario and Quebec show driver turnover rates that are better than the national average, even they have trouble keeping their new hire rates even with the demand.
In other words, growing your company in this labor-constrained market, requires not only sound recruitment strategies but just as sound retention strategies.
While it’s true many in the industry feel that driver turnover can be primarily blamed on the job’s working conditions and lifestyle-related challenges such as time away from home, we believe driver turnover should not be dismissed simply as an unavoidable byproduct of a job that is too demanding and leads to quick dissatisfaction. Such a conclusion places too much emphasis on recruitment as long-term retention is considered unlikely due to the nature of the job. As we argued last year after considering the results from our first annual Driver Satisfaction Survey, the data does not support such commonly-held industry beliefs.
When you consider the long hours, the paper work, the congestion on our roadways and constantly changing legislation drivers have to deal with, two conclusions can easily be reached: One, that driving is a damn tough job and, two, that it makes for a lot of job dissatisfaction. Yet only the first conclusion holds up to closer scrutiny.
As we discovered last year, despite all their on-the-job challenges, company drivers and owner/operators are not as dissatisfied with their jobs as many assume them to be. Last year they scored their job satisfaction rate a 3.62 out of 5 in our survey. This year the job satisfaction rate was basically the same, and actually a touch better: 3.66. That’s a solid “B” mark drivers are giving their jobs. Similar to last year, 63% considered themselves either satisfied or very satisfied in their jobs. Also similar to last year, only 16% considered themselves unsatisfied and of those only 6% said they were “not at all satisfied.”
The satisfaction level between company drivers and owner/operators is virtually identical.
To provide further perspective we can look at job satisfaction in other transportation-related professions. For example, similar research is conducted among supply chain professionals annually on behalf of our Transportation Media Research division. Supply chain managers also have highly demanding and often stressful jobs but their pay tends to be considerably better – the average pay for the position was more than $82,000 in 2006. Asked the exact same question as drivers, however, supply chain managers rated their job satisfaction level at 3.50 on average.
Of course, professional drivers may be more satisfied with certain aspects of their job than others. Looking to identify areas that lead to potential job dissatisfaction, this year 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. That is particularly heartening considering that treatment at the hands of shippers used to be a particularly sore point not too long ago
– Rated almost as high were “the feeling of accomplishment” they get from doing their jobs and “the people” they work with – both at 3.56 out of 5
– Cherished almost as much at 3.52 was “the amount of independent thought and action” they get to exercise on the job
Low pay and stress levels are often cited by many fleet managers as main reasons for driver turnover. Yet our research found that although drivers are not as satisfied with these aspects of their job as with the aspects noted above, nor are they as upsetting to them as supposed.
– They rated “the amount of pay and benefits” they received a 3.33 out of 5
– They rated “the amount of stress” in their work a 3.06 out of 5.
So which aspects of the driving job are the least satisfying? The three aspects that received the lowest satisfaction scores were:
– The “amount of training and development” at 2.84
– The “amount of recognition received for strong performance” at 2.88
– And the “opportunity to grow with the company” at 2.78. In fact, that was the lowest satisfaction score given to the 12 different job aspects measured.
These responses beg some questions. If drivers are the dissatisfied, quick to quit lot some think them to be, then why do they care about the amount of training and development they receive? And why would they care about opportunities to grow with their companies?
Let’s take a closer look at driver attitudes and perceptions about training. The CTHRC study found that while motor carriers are offering more training than they have in the past, there is still room for improvement. About 13% of fleets offer only one type of training support, while just over 17% do not offer any training at all. With the Driver Satisfaction Survey we asked company drivers and owner/operators to indicate the areas in which they receive training and the areas in which they would like to receive more training. As you can see from Figure 3, with the exception of safety training, company policies and completing paper work, less than half of our survey respondents were receiving training in other key areas such as driving skills, business skills, managing family issues and career path. Yet our survey found a definite thirst for more training among professional drivers. For example:
– while 43% receive driving skills training, another 45% would like to get such training
– while 26% receive business skills training, another 45% would like to get such training
– while 37% receive fuel efficiency training, another 40% would like to get such training
– while 30% receive managing family issues training, another 35% would like to get such training
– and while 27% receive career path training, another 40% would like to get such training
There has been considerable interest of late in creating a career path for professional drivers. The industry currently finds itself at a disadvantage in recruiting younger workers. Statistics Canada data indicates that the proportion of workers under age 35 in the trucking industry is significantly smaller than that of the over
all Canadian economy. The competition for young talent is only going to get tougher. The overall Canadian labor pool is shrinking as Baby Boomers start to retire, causing increased competition among industries for new employees. As Jayne Gunn, program coordinator for KRTS Transportation Specialists, pointed out at Career Path Roundtable earlier this year, adding a career path for the driving profession would do much to boost the attractiveness of the job.
“These kids do their research and educate themselves about the different industries,” she said, pointing out that many industries, including retail, manufacturing and fabricating, have distinct career paths for new entrants to follow while trucking does not. “A career path will help us be perceived as an option at the high school level and right now we are not. We need a career path from a training, recruitment and retention perspective. Research shows that people are not only leaving trucking companies, they are leaving the industry.”
Motortruck Fleet Executive presented the results from our first Driver Satisfaction Survey at the Career Path Roundtable and promised to focus more attention on the subject with this year’s Driver Satisfaction Survey. 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. 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 4.11 out of 5 and the statement “I would support the creation of a career path for drivers a 4.21 out of 5
– They scored the statement “A career path would allow me to contribute more to my company, beyond my driving skills” a 4.26.
– They thought a career path would make them feel better about their job as a driver, scoring that statement a 4.07 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 4.24 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 4.19 out of 5. 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. Considering a third of company drivers in our Driver Satisfaction Survey this year listed “better career opportunities” and a quarter listed “company career path” as main reasons to consider working for one carrier over another, this is clearly an area fleet managers should examine more closely. There appears to be ample opportunity to build closer relationships with professionals drivers through training while at the same time making for more qualified and more satisfied employees.
Respondent Profile and Survey Methodology
Over the course of the past year, company drivers and owner/operators were invited to participate in our second annual national Driver Satisfaction Survey in a variety of ways. E-mail invites were sent to a subset of the circulation of Truck News and Truck West. Invitations to participate were also provided at leading industry shows. Also, for the first time this year, the survey was made available in both French and English, and as a result we greatly increased participation in Quebec.
In total, the responses of 384 professional drivers are included in this survey. Forty five percent of our driver sample consisted of company drivers and 55% of owner/operators. Fifty two percent worked in the for-hire fleet sector; 27% in the private fleet sector; 5% worked in a government fleet or a driver service, and 16% worked for an owner/operator. While 46% were based in Ontario, the survey included representation across the country. Nine percent were from the Maritimes; 23% from Quebec; and 22% from Western Canada.
The average age for company drivers was 46, while the average age for owner/operators was 49. Company drivers had been driving professionally for 19 years on average and owner/operators for 26. Both company drivers and owner/operators had worked for five different companies on average during their time in the industry.
The vast majority of company drivers (89%) drove solo as did the majority (93%) of owner/operators.
Pay by the hour and pay by the mile/km were the two most common forms of payment for company drivers. Forty percent of company drivers were paid by the hour and 44% by the mile/km. A quarter of owner/operators were paid by the trip while 47% were paid by the mile/km. Other forms of payment included by the hour, by the tonne, and by salary.
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