By John D. Schultz / www.logisticsmgmt.com / September 28th, 2015
The long-running truck driver shortage is getting worse and is limiting carriers’ expansion plans at a time when economic growth is beginning to constrain surface transportation capacity.
Finding and retaining enough complaint truck drivers “is the biggest single challenge for us as an industry,” a top trucking industry executive says.
That’s the word from Daniel England, chairman and CEO of Salt Lake City-based C.R. England, the nation’s largest refrigerated carrier, and former chairman of the American Trucking Associations. England has more than 7,500 drivers. 4,300 trucks and $1.3 billion in revenue.
England spoke at the 29th annual meeting of the North American Transportation Employee Relations Association (NATERA) held in New Orleans last week. He said shippers should be prepared to pay higher freight rates to help carriers pay for better pay for drivers. A typical for-hire truckload driver earns $47,000 on average (compared with $75,000 for a private fleet driver). England says fleets have to be prepared to continue paying drivers more.
“We haven’t had the collective will as an industry to go to shippers to compensate us enough to get us to motivate our drivers to stay with the company,” England said.
Most large TL carriers have driver turnover in excess of 100 percent a year. It’s an issue that has dogged the non-union truckload sector for nearly 20 years, but has been exacerbated by the improving economy that has increased competition for compliant drivers.
“It’s not a simple problem—it’s not just a matter of compensation,” England said. Increasing quality of life is a goal of many carriers. Gaining home time is “huge” for drivers, England said, noting that some long-haul drivers are home about once a month.
Wal-Mart is England’s largest customer. England has modified its relationship with Wal-Mart to assign about 2,300 of its drivers to work dedicated trucking routes for Wal-Mart, which allows them much more regular schedules and home time.
Drivers are “at the bottom of the food chain,” England said. But he said that perception is changing.
“This challenge of finding and keeping drivers has altered the most basic ways of our business,” England said.
England has to hire about 200 drivers a week to keep up with its demand. It operates eight driver training schools to find enough drivers. But it is costly. Training a new driver costs England about $40,000 to $45,000 for the three-week training program.
“The focus on driver retention is unlike anything I’ve seen in 20 years I’ve been in the industry,” said Daren Wingard, England’s vice president of associate relations.
Others agreed. Lee Miller, president of Miller Transporters, said the scrutiny of drivers is greater than at any time in his 30-plus years in the industry.
“I know I didn’t have to pass as many tests to get my job in the industry as truck drivers do today,” Miller said.
Trucking is pushing to expand the available pool. It recently won the right to run a small pilot program to training 18-year-old drivers to work as apprentices to veteran drivers. Currently, the requirement for interstate drivers is they must be at least 21 years old.
On other topics, England said:
-“Common sense” should prevail in the hours of service rewrite, including modifying the currently suspended “34-hour restart” requirement that drivers take at least two 15-minute breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.;
-the Federal Motor Carrier Administration needs to provide more “flexibility” to carriers in allowing drivers to decide when they are fatigued and need to rest;
-the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is a “fiasco” and contains “flaws” because the FMCSA doesn’t consider who is at fault in truck accidents in compiling the safety rating scores of fleets and their carriers;
-electronic log books make sense and should be a safety gain for the industry when they are made mandatory in 2017. “But there is no question it reduces production,” England says;
-the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association’s (OOIDA) claim that mandatory electronic log books will cause driver harassment is “ludicrous” and should be dismissed by the courts; and
-Congress is “failing us incredibly” by not coming up with a long-term funding program for a multi-year highway bill. He favors indexing the federal fuel tax – unchanged since 1993 – to inflation, which would help pay for a long-term bill.
England and the ATA are “vehemently” opposed to expanding tolls on existing highways. Higher overhead costs for tolling make it a “much, much less effective way” to pay for a long-term highway bill.
It’s not just truck drivers are in short supply. Truck technicians are needed as well.
“In our industry, we often talk about the impact of the shortage of truck drivers,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “But we mustn’t forget trucking’s need to have many skilled technicians and mechanics to keep their rigs in working order and their wheels moving.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, trucking will need to recruit 67,000 new technicians by 2022 due to growth or to replace men and women currently working in the industry. This does not include the more than 75,000 new diesel engine specialists BLS anticipates the country needing by 2022.
“Trucking moves America forward and technicians keeps those trucks moving,” said Carl Kirk, ATA vice president of maintenance, information technology & logistics and executive director of ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council. “We’re encouraged that ATA, as the industry leader, is urging people who can make a difference to focus on ways to address the looming technician shortage,” Kirk added.
These issues have to be resolved in order to maintain the essentiality of the trucking industry, England emphasized.
“If trucking doesn’t do what it does, this country would come to a standstill,” England said.
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