Viewpoint: Driving: a career or a roadblock?

by Lou Smyrlis, Editorial Director

For the last two issues I’ve shared my thoughts on why so many carriers, who have shown incredible courage and innovation in dealing with many business issues, can’t seem to get a handle on the driver shortage. As I mentioned last month, I don’t think it’s accurate to say we have a driver shortage when “truck driver” is one of the top three professions for Canadian males. What we do have are distinct issues with hanging on to the drivers that we have and attracting the right new ones to sit behind the wheel.

Why? It’s likely due to a variety of reasons ranging from insufficient pay for the actual hours worked to the stress involved with trying to raise a family while being on the road for long periods of time. But one reason I don’t often hear about yet but is worth considering is that we may not be challenging drivers enough to keep them interested in their jobs.

A few years back a groundbreaking study on driver retention conducted by the respected Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute of North Dakota State University found that truck drivers are not the dissatisfied lot many fleet managers assume them to be. Quite the contrary, drivers get more satisfaction from doing their jobs than workers in many other occupations, including the machine trades, bench and structural work, sales, processing, technical and even managerial positions.

If drivers are so satisfied with their jobs, why do so many of them quit? One of the main reasons may be that carriers are not responding to drivers’ desires to grow in their jobs and make an increased contribution to their company.

Past studies on job satisfaction conducted by the Institute had found a strong desire among drivers for a career path. Eighty three percent of drivers surveyed had indicated that career advancement was important to them. Yet 54% perceived the opportunities for advancement in their company as poor. Similarly, 54% of them had the same perception about opportunities in the industry. The study I’m referring to found that drivers were interested in a variety of job responsibilities in addition to driving. More than 60% said they wanted to be involved in customer service; 40% wanted to be involved in driver training; 56% wanted to be part of a cost-reduction team; and 43% wanted to supervise other drivers. In addition, 66% of the drivers surveyed said they would be more satisfied with their job if it included a realistic career path, while 60% said they would be less likely to quit their job.

Creating a career path for the more experienced drivers is particularly critical, according to the study, because contrary to popular industry opinion turnover is more an issue with experienced drivers than the new recruits. The study found that drivers with 10 years or more experience were much more likely to have frequent thoughts about quitting their jobs, usually a good indication that they will eventually leave their jobs.

Our own research group, Transportation Media Research, in partnership with the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, is currently examining the issue of driver satisfaction in Canada. I’ll be able to share the results of that research with you in the next few months.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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