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The real issues behind the driver retention problem


I’ve been thinking about what’s different in the trucking industry today compared to the autumn of 1998, when I decided to take the plunge into this trucking career. I don’t mean from a hardware or a systems perspective, but from a human perspective.

My motivator was money and a steady job. I needed to support my family and dig myself out of a financial hole. I don’t think this basic fact has changed. Most people are attracted to trucking as a source of financial support, but many people find in a short period of time that life on the road is no cakewalk and not worth the money.

They never become infected with the trucking bug. I was. If you’ve been driving for more than a couple of years, you have too. Despite all the talk of promoting trucking as a career to young people – that all we need to do is talk it up, dress it up, and call it a profession – it all comes down to money and time. If you like the money but despise the time and effort away from home it takes to earn it, you won’t survive. That fact remains the same.

Is breaking into this business different than it was in 1998? I’m not sure that it is. I worked for a number of companies in my first four years. The majority of them aren’t in business today. I was hired as an independent contractor for an owner-operator and told after being “hired” that I was financially responsible for any damages and insurance deductibles.

As an employee for another carrier, I never received one cent of vacation pay for statutory holidays or otherwise. I had a union job for a car hauler but was laid off four months after starting and never went back. The irony with the union job was that I was referred by my co-workers to a temp agency for drivers, and most of the work was scab work. I continue to hear experiences along these lines from new drivers today.

In 2003 with a clean driving record and a wide array of driving experience under my belt, I decided it was make it or break it time. I started a job search and didn’t want to work for any company that didn’t start with an in-depth interview that focused on me. The driver shortage has been constant throughout my career and I was sick of faxing in a resume and getting a response that said: ‘Can you start Monday?’ No questions asked. I don’t think this has changed much either.

As drivers, we make our own bed. Most of the time. There are plenty of good companies out there, mostly small to mid-sized, that are run by people with integrity. You have to find a company that is a good fit for you and that you are a good fit for. It takes a little time and it takes a good deal of patience. Building loyalty and trust doesn’t come in the space of a few weeks or months. You may not always succeed on your first try. This definitely has not changed over the past 20 years.

There is a lot more corporate trucking now than there was 20 years ago. Empires are built by absorbing the smaller companies I described above. That is a definite change. But it is not unique to trucking. That’s a change we’ve seen across our society as a whole.

The “all for profit” approach is fueling the adoption of technology that drains a driver’s potential rather than fuel their passion. It’s a dead-end road, in my opinion. The true leaders are passionate about their business, practice good business ethics, are savvy in their business dealings, and treat their employees well. That hasn’t changed.

My boss has the trucking bug in his blood. As do I. I’m not going anywhere.

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Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com.


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2 Comments » for The real issues behind the driver retention problem
  1. Yogi says:

    You are so right. It does come down to time and money, and we can thank, in part, the Alberta Oil Patch, the pipelines, and the Gold Mines for that.
    Basically, if you, or someone you know, works in any of those areas, the pay structure is effectively this .. you get paid for 4 weeks, and only have to work 2 weeks. For all intents and purposes the company picks you up at your house, delivers you to work, and when work is done, they take you back home. The fact that they get WestJet and Air Canada to do the driving is immaterial. While you are on the job they feed you, house you, entertain you, and pay you extra to be away from home.
    If you want to attract big numbers of people to trucking so you can take your pick of the best available, That’s the time and pay model you have to absorb. It’s all about time and money.
    A sign I put up for my drivers …
    The good old days were great.
    -But they’re gone-
    And they’re not coming back.
    That applies to companies as well.

  2. William P McKechnie says:

    I agree with most of Al’s points. The big thing is money. I’ve been a driver for over forty years and that hasn’t changed. BUT you also have to like the people you work with.I had a great job. The money was fantastic. On my birthday my load was to be ready at noon. It was cancelled. I told the dispatcher it was my birthday and I wouldn’t mind the day off. He said he would get me a load. I repeated my request. I was ignored. At MIDNIGHT the load was ready. I had been up most of the day waiting. I ran that load and left the company shortly after.I’m making a little less, but I am happier!

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