Although nobody will dispute the role that the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 had on the truck driver retention problem, the fact remains that the industry itself remains as a major player in its continuance.
As far back as 1966, the average turn-over rate among drivers was 27% and even then, the two primary reasons for drivers quitting were low pay and home time. In 1975, the average annual pay for employee truck drivers was $33,020.00, rising to $36,816.00 by 1978. In 1986 it had fallen to $29,692.00 and by the year 2000 had risen to $32,604. (1)
Today, in 2015, the average median income for a company driver is approximately $37,000 per year, closely meeting the peak income during 1978. What is interesting to note, is no amount of a raise in income takes into consideration any rise in cost of living. If this factor was considered for between the years of 1978 and 2015, the average annual pay for a company driver today would be $127,613 using the CPI-U-X1 consumer price index measuring system. (2) When one figures in inflation for the same time period, 2015 average annual pay for a company-employed driver would rise to $133,876.
However, in all fairness, one would be inaccurate to say that trucking is the only industry failing to provide their employees or contractors with appropriate modern-day wages. All industries do the same thing, thus the reason in the rise against that known as “Corporate Greed.” Regardless, this is one of the primary areas where the trucking industry is refusing to see when it comes to the decades-old problem of driver retention.
It would be unreasonable to believe a motor carrier should pay a company driver $133,000 per year, but it would be reasonable to see a minimum average skilled wage of $50,000 to $65,000 which could be accomplished through raising freight rates, commanding pay for detention time and other various points of business. In many areas of commerce, the industry seems to fail to understand that they could be in control, but it is much easier and non-confrontational to simply continue earning off of the backs of their drivers.
Motor carriers continue to focus on two areas in their combat against the high turn-over rate among drivers: (1) the so-called “driver shortage” and (2) driver recruiting tactics. Drivers, on the other hand, are still focused on the very same issues that can easily be shown to be problem areas back in the 1960’s:
- Low Pay
- Working Conditions
- Long Hours
- Not Enough Miles
- Home Time
- Treatment by Dispatch, Supervisors and Management
The same concerns among drivers dating back for decades are still concerns addressed today: lack of communication, no respect and feeling unappreciated and of little value; and now today, the industry faces perhaps their greatest challenge yet, and one they will have to eventually address: a new generation.
There are newer generations of not only a society, but an age of technology that will continue to work against the standard ways that motor carriers have conducted their business over the past years. Before the age of internet and the immediate ability to locate information, trucking companies could get away with the false advertising and driver recruiting tactics used to lure the uniformed novice into the vocation. With the ever-ready trucking forums and job sites such as Indeed.com and others, the savvy techies of today can instantly read reviews by drivers, relating to the potential employer. Simply put, motor carriers and driver recruiters are not able to “fool” the potential new employee as easily as they once were.
Secondly, the newest of generations see no purpose or have little desire to enter a vocation like OTR trucking, due to the very reasons that are still concerns of veteran truckers. Simply put, times have changed. This younger generation can see themselves as being much more capable of accomplishing bigger and better things than spending their lives in a truck, working for a company that provides low pay, disrespect, little home-time, along with the industry regulations and their image perception of “The Truck Driver.”
The trucking industry has failed to respond to the needs of drivers in the years gone by and the new generation is seeing it, they are reading about it and they are hearing it through the technological advances that are available today. Veteran drivers saw it coming years ago and others have addressed the issue such as Todd Dills, Senior Editor of Overdrive Magazine. Why would motor carriers be so surprised that they would not want to enter such a vocation and lifestyle?
The old, worn-out concepts and ways of conducting recruiting tactics and empty promises to bring in new drivers will not work with the new generations, at least on a large enough scale to “fix” the problem that the industry has created. Raising driver pay to .45 or .50 cpm will not work when many newcomers are still starting out at .27 cpm by those fine “starter companies” and when it is obvious that the “pay raise” is really no raise at all. These generations understand that such raises in 2015 still only barely match the USD value of the mid to late 1970’s.
The trucking industry is in fact, facing three new generations in which the largest majority see no attraction toward driving a truck: (1) the Millennial Generation, (2) Generation Z, and (3) the Generation Selfies. These are the problems and the reasons for those problems that the trucking industry now faces in their attempt to bring in new drivers.
So what is the solution?
Everyone knows that during the past decades, the industry has purposely failed to retain drivers, whether they will admit it or not. The common practice of “starving out” drivers and deliberately and intentionally “churning” them over is nothing new and has been revealed many times over, thanks to the age of social media.
The first step in retaining drivers within the industry is to first, actually want to retain them. Secondly, drivers have been advising the industry for thirty years on how to keep drivers: higher pay, more home time and treated with respect. The industry’s problem at this level is that they have not been listening or most probable, have refused to listen because for every driver to quit, companies knew there were ten waiting to replace them. Not so today.
Even with the industry facing the three generations of potential new drivers, there will always be someone wanting or needing a job. That “job” however, is going to have to change in order to meet the criteria for employment by some within these generations. Motor carriers will have to raise their own standards of professionalism by increasing pay to a much higher livable wage. They are going to have to provide these “new drivers” with greater home time and to treat them with the respect that a skilled worker deserves.
Despite the classification by the U.S. Labor Department, the CMV operator is “SKILLED” and carriers are going to have to start treating them as such and seeing their drivers as an important and vital partner within their employment.
Carriers will have to redesign their company and the image of the industry into an elite, high profile career opportunity. They will have to demand the highest expectations of professionalism by their drivers, offer higher CDL training standards and require a superior code of conduct. This code will need to be maintained at all times to combat the driver image issue which has contributed to the fall of the industry within the eyes of these generations and the general public.
Over the years, the industry created these problems that are now coming back to bite them. Many drivers as well, has played their part in the downfall but one can only take being beaten down for so long until they finally simply stop caring. In reality, the probable solution is mostly in the hands of the industry. With all the problems created and maintained by the industry over the years, they never saw the obstacle of the generation gap coming and now it is here.
Finding, hiring and retaining future drivers from the newer generations will never work on a large enough scale unless the industry commits to the measures in bringing respect and attractiveness to the vocation and addressing the issues raised by drivers for decades, once and for all.
© 2015, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.