Where did all the drivers go? And are they coming back?

At the recent Gearjammer Magazine Truck Show in New Hampshire, the overwhelming message from truck owners was, “We can’t even find bad drivers, let alone good ones.” 

This sentiment shared by owners of some of the coolest trucks in the country reflects DAT’s conversation on the structural shift over the last month. In normal times, local and regional fleets rarely have trouble finding drivers to drive great looking trucks and be home every night. This is not so anymore. 

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The current driver shortage is a result of an aging trucker workforce and exodus of experienced drivers, which accelerated during the pandemic. The driver shortage used to be mostly a long-haul truckload carrier problem. But now, every sector of the trucking industry struggles to find willing applicants to meet ever-increasing demand.

For many years, there wasn’t a need to focus on keeping drivers since there was a constant supply of new drivers entering the industry. But now that drivers are harder to find, the focus shifted to retaining existing drivers and finding creative ways to keep them engaged.

“As soon as you see fleets shift focus from recruitment to retention, it means it’s getting harder to find drivers,” says Ray Haight, TPP Retention Coach at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).

Hiring new drivers

Haight is a strong advocate of hiring transparency that sets realistic job expectations for new drivers.

“Talking to a new driver upfront about the family cash flow plan ensures the truck driving job delivers on the family’s expectations,” says Haight. “If you don’t cover basic human needs of food, safety, and shelter, you’ll end up with high driver turnover.”

On a recent TCA webinar, Haight shared top tips for creating and maintaining a driver-centric culture within a company:

“Truck driver recruiting and retention practices are really an exercise in adjusting company culture. In order to create a culture of commitment at a company, fleet owners and managers need to be leaders, rather than bosses. And as leaders, they must teach their drivers how to trust their instincts, encourage them to offer insights, and offer them what they need to succeed.”

Haight’s driver retention philosophy is based on his extensive experience managing truckload fleets and Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Needs must be satisfied in successive order:

  1. Physiological needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.)
  2. Safety needs (job security)
  3. Social needs 
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Self-actualization needs

In the trucking world, this translates to competitive pay, safety culture, communication and support, recognition and self-actualization. 

“The secret to driver retention is to build value, and that will drive a positive sense of community, but you need to get the money and safety right,” says Haight. “Those things are huge and the biggest for recruiting. But if you don’t have the other three factors, then you’re going to have high turnover, and it’s going to be hard to get over that.”

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