February 2007 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Driver-Shortage Issues: Carriers Get Creative

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With trucking demand projected to exceed capacity for the next 15 years, and drivers retiring or leaving the business faster than they can be replaced, trucking companies and third-party logistics providers are scrambling to protect themselves from serious operating disruptions caused by driver-shortage issues.

Shippers, in turn, feel the impact of the problem when contracting with carriers for transportation needs.

Finding drivers—and retaining them—has become the most challenging problem facing the industry today. How bad is the situation?

Total truck miles are expected to double by 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration. And over the next 10 years, 219,000 long-haul truck drivers—one in six—will retire, the American Trucking Associations estimates. That, coupled with high turnover, will produce a shortage of as many as 111,000 drivers.

Develop Creative Solutions

How, then, do trucking and logistics companies attract and retain enough qualified drivers to offset an aging workforce and high turnover? Creative solutions are the key.Recruiting drivers from Generation Y is one possible answer. Many firms now attend job fairs to talk with high-school students about the benefits of a truck-driving career. Minorities are another untapped resource for many carriers. The industry is already experiencing a shift to a more ethnically diverse job bank. If companies are attentive to ethnic communities within their operating areas, they can find qualified candidates by advertising in non-English publications.

In southeast Michigan, for instance, carriers have reached the large Russian immigrant community, as well as Arabic and Eastern European populations, through targeted advertising campaigns in those groups' languages.

Maintain Driver Relationships

Attracting drivers, however, is only half the battle; carriers must also keep them happy and loyal so they don't jump to other positions for pennies more per hour or mile. Carriers can use a combination of tactics to retain the drivers they already have while recruiting new candidates. Fresh thinking to find new ways to address these challenges is imperative.

One smart retention tactic is to give drivers the opportunity to become owner-operators. Carriers can establish a financing program that converts company drivers to owner-operators, and set a goal defining how many drivers to convert each year. Encouraging drivers to be independent and providing them with a company-endorsed avenue to generate greater income is a great way to build solid relationships.

Create Personal Connections

Another way to keep drivers happy is by cultivating personal connections with them. Carrier firms should show drivers they are cared about, and give them opportunities to ask questions and resolve issues. Appointing a driver liaison who regularly calls drivers when they are on the road is a good start. The driver liaison will find out if drivers are experiencing problems, and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns. A friendly voice reaching out to identify and resolve problems is a human touch that builds loyalty among drivers and gives them an additional reason to stay.The key message for every trucking and logistics company is to realize the importance of innovation and fresh thinking in solving driver-shortage issues. We must inform the market about existing opportunities and creatively develop new opportunities.

It's up to us to recruit and retain the talent needed to keep trucks rolling.

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