After years of operating with driver shortages, supply chain disruptions, and a global pandemic, it’s safe to say the trucking industry has seen its fair share of turmoil. If you thought the back half of 2022 would bring some relief, think again. The latest American Trucking Associations (ATA) data estimates the driver shortage will reach historic levels, and 1 million drivers will need to be recruited in the next 10 years.
While there are many factors fueling the professional driver shortage—from drivers reaching retirement age to the strenuous lifestyle to the pandemic—the number of available and eligible truck drivers has been on the decline for years. But there are three things we can do right now as industry leaders to trigger a rebound, increase the available pool of drivers on the road today and keep on trucking. Here’s what you need to know.
1) Focus on Drivers at Risk
There are more than 3.6 million drivers in the U.S, and up to 55% of them have been issued a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card for one year or less. The long hours and sedentary lifestyle often contribute to health issues that cause drivers to fail their medical exams. As a result, drivers lose their job when their card expires, either temporarily or permanently, and carriers lose experienced drivers.
By focusing on drivers who may be on the verge of becoming medically disqualified, we can offer health and wellness support to help keep them behind the wheel. Approximately 80% of these drivers have a good driving record; they just need assistance managing health issues that are common in the industry. What’s more, carriers can avoid the cost of losing drivers, which can be as high as $20,000 per driver, and avoid recruitment and training fees that can be more than $12,000 a driver.
2) Take Care of Drivers
Commercial truck driving is not easy—it’s highly competitive, physically exhausting, and socially isolating. It should come as no surprise that nine out of 10 newly licensed truck drivers will quit within a year of their start date. Many times drivers aren’t properly trained or educated for the realities of the job, and after a few cross-country hauls, they get their paycheck and quit. This career is not for everyone, but as a professional driver with more than 25 years of experience, I know we can do better as an industry to help drivers improve their health and overall wellness. Carriers must offer health coaching, meal planning, and actionable tips and resources to stay active on the road. And, if they really want to set a high bar, they should take it one step further by incentivizing healthy choices with cash bonuses or time off. By investing in drivers’ health and wellness, carriers will have a more fulfilled workforce who are ready to hit the road and juggle the high demands of the job.
3) Retain and Rehire
In trucking, it’s true what they say: the drivers you have are your best drivers. That’s why it’s crucial to nurture your current driver fleet and take good care of them. Just like carriers invest in preventative maintenance for their trucks, the same is true for drivers. Not only is this financially beneficial for carriers, but it’s also essential to ensure the health and safety of drivers as well as protect the industry from experiencing additional shortages and bottlenecks in the future.
Another tactic to overcome the challenges we’re seeing is to rehire former drivers. Driver turnover happens—it’s just part of the industry—but you can take advantage of it. Whether drivers return for the money or were recently medically requalified, these are highly experienced drivers who are ready to get back in the driver’s seat. Don’t miss an opportunity to bring someone back who already knows how you operate and the routes you cover.
While the professional driver shortage is causing havoc in the industry, it’s important to rethink our relationships with drivers and embrace a more driver-centric approach. Focusing on those behind the wheel, we can build a healthier, happier, more efficient and productive workforce. Try it—you won’t regret it.