‘The working conditions … are not desirable’

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — When it comes to labor, trucking has a marketing problem, but it may be more than that.

In a recruiting and retention session at the 2018 Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) convention, Driver IQ co-president Lana Batts said the driver shortage may be to blame, in part, for the environment.

“The working conditions in our industry are not desirable,” she says.

Batts, a statistician, gathered data through surveys administered by Driver IQ and through a review of other studies from the government and organizations like the American Trucking Associations. Her information shows that drivers feel they are overworked and underpaid. In a labor market with an overall unemployment rate of less than 5% — what is generally considered full employment — Batts says drivers are realizing they can be picky about where they take their careers.

“Everyone who wants to work is working,” she said. “There are no new rocks, no new places to turn over… It is much better to retain.”

As other sessions emphasized at the TCA convention, Batts said retaining employees means listening to them and making them feel heard.

Batts’ surveys show time and money are the two things that will entice drivers to stay in their current jobs.

While the need for flexibility is a trait often associated with millennial employees, Batts’ information shows it’s a top request for workers across age groups.

If fleets want to hang on to the drivers they have, or find new ones, they need to be flexible in their approach to routes and offering time off, helping to accommodate those who want the freedom to spend time with their families.

By now, the request for flexible schedules and more time away from work is a familiar refrain, but with signing bonuses, and increase per diems and mileage rates, what might not be as clear is that drivers also want more money.

Drivers in 1980 made an average of about US $38,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation that figure today would be more than $111,000 per year. Batts’ stumped her audience by asking them to come up with a fleet that constantly pays drivers that wage today. (All figures in this story are in U.S. dollars.)

While some fleets will pay up to $75,000 per year, that figure may no longer be enough for drivers who feel like they are trading time away from their children for too little in return.

“People were willing to work on the north slope, in really horrible conditions because it was a lot of money,” she said. “We do have a pay problem.”

Batts says drivers are becoming aware of just how desperate the labor situation is, and that it will get worse before it gets better. She, like others, estimates the shortage could reach as many as 200,000 drivers in the U.S. in the next decade.

That number represents bargaining power for employees who know they can go elsewhere if they aren’t being paid enough for the work they’re doing, forcing fleets to cough up more dough — especially if they’re unwilling to be flexible on schedules.

While Batts thinks money and flexibility are the two main problems currently with recruitment and retention, she says there are other smaller things at play, too, such as marketing.

Batts pointed out that fleets tell her they are open to hiring drivers of all ethnicities and from all areas, but she rarely sees job advertisements in commonly spoken languages that aren’t English, leaving a wide, untapped market of French, Spanish, Hindi, and Punjabi speakers, to name a few.

“Our mindset says one thing, our ads say something else,” she said.

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