Commercial trucking companies are eager to beef up staff as the pace of economic activity increases coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 230,000 truck transportation jobs were posted in April, second only to professional services, according to Emsi, a labor market data company.
But the industry, like many others, is struggling to find workers. People remain hesitant to go back to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school full-time. Many are receiving more in unemployment benefits and stimulus checks than they would earn in some available low-wage jobs.
For fleet managers, though, the labor shortage is not a new problem. Recruiting and retaining drivers has been a challenge for years. Long-haul truck driving is a stressful job, associated with health challenges, dangerous road hazards, and extended time away from home. In addition, with the growth of e-commerce, fleet managers have faced increased competition for workers from warehousing and other parts of the logistics industry.
The demographic trends are challenging for the trucking industry. Truckers are older than other workers, with a median age of 46, compared with 41 for all workers. Census Bureau data also show that drivers closer to retirement (ages 55 to 64) outnumber younger drivers (ages 25 to 34).
The natural market reaction to any labor shortage is to increase salaries. Numerous fleets have raised wages, offered sign-on bonuses and boosted financial incentives in recent years — so much so that some part-time drivers are making $70,000 a year.
And yet driver turnover remains high, and fleet labor costs continue to rise. To cope with the churn, fleet owners have to think beyond extrinsic motivations like pay and bonuses to increase job satisfaction and create engaged employees who are vested in the organizations’ future and success.
Fleets naturally have a harder job building loyalty and fellowship among their drivers because these workers are truly remote. Their vehicles are their workplaces. But just as companies have used Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other collaborative technology to keep remote employees engaged through the pandemic, fleets can use technology to help drivers feel more engaged with their employers and other drivers.
Engagement starts with training and education. A driver’s first impression of your company is critical. Transform employee onboarding with a systematic and purposeful approach to introducing new employees to the organization’s environment and culture.
Training shouldn’t stop in the classroom. Drivers, much like any other worker, prefer to pick up intelligence about their jobs, their employer and their industry from their colleagues. It’s a common trend across industries to learn in the flow of work and to gain information from fellow staff to enhance skill sets. Peer-to-peer learning also can improve performance and attitudes about learning, as it has in academic settings.
Drivers have always shared tips about weather, traffic and other driving conditions. Now, trucking companies can leverage Information harvested from onboard telematic devices to provide in-cab feedback to help drivers make adjustments in real time. Drivers also can learn new routes faster by seeing the past performance of their fellow truckers on the same routes.
The best-run fleets are also using data to build more effective driver-incentive programs. In designing a program, you have to establish clear benchmarks and objectives that align with broader corporate goals around safety, fuel efficiency and sustainability. Benchmarking through data analysis creates a fairer system of evaluation. Drivers want to be compared with their peers operating under similar conditions. Nothing is more deflating than targets that are out of reach or not relevant based on routes, loads and equipment.
By sharing individual driving data and fleet-wide data, drivers can understand where they fit in the big picture and are more likely to be aware of their impact and drive accordingly. Transparency also creates trust in incentive programs and levels the playing field. No more leaderboard reports anonymously ranking drivers on key performance indicators.
Drive engagement in incentive programs by incorporating game-based elements like point scoring, peer competition, teamwork and score tables. Gamification also could help attract younger people to trucking. Research shows that younger generations seek business environments that are relaxed, flexible, and interactive.
The most successful incentive programs boost driver performance, motivate drivers, and, ultimately, improve driver satisfaction. If improved driving performance leads to better fuel economy and fewer accidents, fleet owners can see an even bigger return on their investment in technology and training.
There are no easy solutions to the driver shortage problem. But one thing is for sure. Business as usual is not enough if the trucking industry is going to meet market demands now and into the future.