I had breakfast with a buddy a short while ago and he’s a guy that is usually upbeat and looking at the sunny side of things.
So as we were talking about the state of affairs out here on the road, I was a little taken aback when he said that it just wasn’t any fun anymore. I’ve heard similar statements from many drivers over the past couple of years and I usually just put it off to a venting of frustrations when a couple of drivers get together.
But as I thought about our conversation afterward, I realized that these types of comments are coming from drivers that I don’t usually associate with a lot of bitching about nothing.
They are coming from seasoned drivers with lots of experience. My overall impression is that folks are simply tired out and run down. So naturally I wondered if the driver shortage that gets so much ink in the trucking media these days is showing up in the way of added stress and fatigue on drivers?
Lots has been written about attracting new blood to the industry but not so much about what the effects are on the existing pool of drivers that are picking up the slack.
Think of our present drivers as a group of elite athletes. Okay, I know this may be a stretch, but bear with me. You’re watching game seven of a Stanley Cup final. More than half of the players on both teams are seasoned veterans, well past the halfway point of their careers. But the chips are down and they all have their game on, playing with an intensity of guys half their age.
You know when the game is done that there is no way these players could play every game in a long season with that same level of effort. But when called on, they get the job done.
So now back to our present team of drivers. More than half of us are well past the halfway point in our careers and many of us are feeling the effects. Those effects are reflected in the general state of our health.
For the past few years we’ve been called on to pick up the slack and put in the extra effort. Most of us have had our game on and risen to the call. But unlike a group of athletes that ‘peak’ for a playoff series, we just keep going with no end in sight. Unlike the hockey players, we don’t have an off-season to recover or someone to substitute for us for a game or two during the regular season.
We have also been handicapped in a number of ways. The referees in our industry are calling a tight game. Despite the greater demands on our time, we face harsher penalties if we break the rules. Up until a few years ago our game was open-ended, allowing us the flexibility to stretch out our duties and rest in between. Now we have to complete many of our jobs within a tighter window of time or face a penalty.
Our income has not kept up with inflation over the past couple of decades, so the once above-average income we enjoyed has shrunk to an average middle class income at best. No longer does a driver have the luxury to take time whenever he or she wants, to recharge with family and friends. Many of us are working paycheque to paycheque, living on the road, and just going home to visit.
In my opinion there is not a driver shortage at all. Drivers now receive an average income for an above-average investment of time in an industry where bureaucracy has run amuck. As a result, the freedom of the open road does not hold the same attraction to potential drivers and is quickly losing its luster within the existing pool of drivers.
Shrinking incomes and longer work hours are not unique to the trucking industry. It’s a story repeated across a broad swath of our society. The message we are getting on the front lines is one of austerity. We are told to do more with less in order for companies to remain competitive and create more jobs.
At the same time we receive constant messages to consume more, which fuels economic growth. Earn less but spend more? Maybe I’m getting the wrong message but I don’t think so.
The good news is that many of us work for smaller family-owned businesses that don’t operate by the same rules of austerity as the large public corporations.
But they don’t have the deep pockets that their large competitors do, so they can’t keep their drivers happy by throwing money at them. They need to find creative ways to keep and attract drivers. As drivers we can help them do that and in doing so help ourselves. I’ll come back to this in future columns.