The U.S. trucking industry has long had a big problem: A truck driver shortage, otherwise known as too few workers to fill all those drivers’ seats. While the driver shortage has been an issue for almost two decades, it intensified during the coronavirus pandemic, when a spike in demand for shipping met a cascade of early retirements among truck drivers. More than half of the future need for more drivers will be due to retirements.
Driver shortages don’t just influence fleets’ bottom line; they create a bottleneck for the functioning of commerce throughout the country. Robust trucking fleets in the U.S. are necessary to keep goods on the shelves, gas in filling stations, raw materials in factories, and lumber in lumberyards — as well as fulfilling all manner of other needs.
Trucking companies must look to trucker demographics, focusing on groups that are underrepresented in the industry to solve this intensifying staffing challenge. Attracting younger drivers is one way that fleets can shore up their workforce and find solid footing to grow and serve the nation into the future.
Table of Contents
- 1 Reasons for the Truck Driver Shortage
- 2 The Power of Millennials
- 3 How Trucking Companies Can Recruit Top Talent
- 4 Retention Tactics for Trucking Companies
- 5 Final Thoughts
Reasons for the Truck Driver Shortage
The trucking industry has been struggling with a driver shortage for almost two decades now. In 2005, the industry was short 20,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Association, and the number has only increased since then. In 2018, the shortfall had reached 60,800 drivers, and estimates indicate it will hit 160,000 drivers by 2028.
Why is there a truck driver shortage? It’s a good question. Here are some primary reasons:
- Older drivers are nearing retirement. The trucking industry depends on men over 45 as drivers, and these workers are steadily entering retirement.
- Dependence on male drivers. Trucking has traditionally been a male bastion; though women comprise 47% of the nation’s workers, they’re only 6% of commercial truck drivers. With a large portion of the working-age population uninvolved in the industry, trucking has a relatively small pool of talent to draw from.
- Dependence on white drivers. Minorities don’t make up a large percentage of truck drivers, which is another way that the industry suffers from a relatively constricted pool of talent from which to recruit.
- Difficult lifestyle. Trucking involves long hours behind the wheel, days and even weeks away from home, sleeping in a berth and utilizing truck stops, and sleep deprivation. Many workers choose instead to pursue careers that allow them to stay home and sleep soundly in their own bed.
That all being said, the truck driver shortage does not necessarily reflect a dearth of applicants. In fact a 2015 study showed that 88% of fleets have sufficient applicants but couldn’t hire enough drivers because too many applicants were not qualified for the job. However, a larger pool of candidates, paired with companies focused on making their jobs attractive to workers outside of the traditional older while male driver, could translate into a far larger pool of qualified applicants.
The truck driver shortage exacerbates another problem for fleets: Sky-high driver turnover rates. As the demand for drivers within fleets intensifies, companies see higher turnover as drivers move from company to company in search of the best pay and conditions. This presents high costs for fleets in the time and resources it takes to recruit, onboard, and train new drivers.
The Power of Millennials
Certain segments of the population, such as minorities, women, and younger people, have long been underrepresented in the trucking profession. Trucking companies are now turning to these groups to motivate new entrants into a trucking career. Millennials — those born 1981 and 1996 — are a key component of that effort.
Millennials, now the nation’s largest generation, are currently between the ages of 25 and 40. They are starting out their careers and may be looking for a promising path with good pay and benefits. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average age of truck drivers in the U.S. is currently 45 to 64 years old. Increasing the share of commercial driving jobs Millennials fill will help the industry handle the accelerating tide of retirements and the continued high demand for shipped goods. It will also help fleets slow the pace of turnover and better deal with turnover that does occur.
The Millennial generation matters to employers because they represent a huge pool of talent. They make up more than a third of the U.S. domestic workforce, according to Pew. As of 2017, 56 million of them were participating in the labor market, beating out both Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. If trucking companies can make themselves more appealing to Millennial job-seekers, they will be able to tap into an enormous new group of potential workers.
But appealing to Millennials take a particular approach. More than previous generations, Millennials want workplaces that reflect their values and treat them with respect. According to Gallup, Millennials are looking for employers who care about their wellbeing, provide transparent and ethical leadership, and prioritize building diverse and inclusive workplaces.
How Trucking Companies Can Recruit Top Talent
To tackle their driver shortage, fleets should focus on providing younger workers the environment and benefits they’re looking for. Here are some tips to help your company appeal to Millennial workers.
Market your brand
Gone are the days when you could wait for job-seekers to arrive at your door through word of mouth or job ads. To attract workers that aren’t normally looking for a job like truck driver, fleets need to start marketing to this demographic. Using social media marketing techniques can be a particularly effective way of encouraging Millennials to consider your company as a prospect for people of their age.
With employers in all sectors competing for Millennial talent, fleets need to compete on pay as well as on culture and benefits to reduce the truck driver shortage. Not only does good pay help attract top talent, it indicates to potential workers that you value their work and take them seriously as professionals.
Offer scheduling consistency
Truck driving is a career known for being tough on work-life balance. Truckers often struggle with erratic schedules that might change at the last minute. A survey of truckers in Canada showed that 59% of drivers aged 18-35 cited flexibility as a priority. Flexibility is only possible if you start from a position of having a consistent schedule that allows a guarantee of more predictable days spent at home. This consistency and attendant flexibility can be more attractive to younger job-seekers than a high salary.
Engineer more at-home time
The amount of time away from home can be a problem for a young truck driver. They might be on the road for weeks at a time, which can make family life challenging. However, with an increase in retail distribution centers and employment of hub-and-spoke distribution systems, drivers can spend less time on the road or can concentrate work in shorter forays.
Emphasize your benefits
Millennials are particularly concerned with how their employers will treat them — particularly whether they will take their wellbeing and need for work-life balance seriously. When recruiting, emphasize benefits that make it clear that you see your employees as whole people who must be given the resources and support to live full and satisfying lives.
Retention Tactics for Trucking Companies
Once fleets have got young truck drivers in the door, it’s important to set those new employees up for longevity. Use a variety of tactics to retain your Millennial employees and ensure your fleet can remain strong for years to come.
Have an onboarding plan
Remember that your Millennial employees are likely to have little familiarity with the trucking industry, as it hasn’t been a traditional career path for younger people for decades now. Create an onboarding plan that guides new hires through everything they need to know clearly and at a pace they can absorb. Ensure they know what they will be expected to master by what time.
Provide consistent training
Continuing to train employees after the initial onboard is essential to ensure they succeed and gain satisfaction in the job. Set up a regular training schedule that includes periodic refreshers on things you’ve already covered. Take the time to consult with each employee to ensure they feel confident.
Build a strong safety culture
When hiring young drivers, it’s particularly crucial to emphasize the importance of safety in the trucking industry. Older drivers with more driving — and even life — experience easily understand the need for safety measures and training, but Millennial drivers new to the industry may need a stronger sense of their centrality. Creating a culture that values safety above all else will help new drivers grow into safe, responsible professionals.
Offer incentives and rewards
Young truck drivers can be motivated to excel through incentive and rewards programs. Fleets can create a culture of safety while also motivating drivers with the implementation of rewards related to safe driving.
Enable career advancement
Fleets looking to bring on young truck drivers should consider the career advancement opportunities they can provide to these ambitious employees. According to a study by PayScale and Millennial Branding, 72% of Millennials say they are looking for a career that has opportunities for advancement. Older generations aren’t so focused on this — only 52% of Baby Boomers and 64% of Gen-Xers say they value such opportunities.
Use technology to enhance the job
Fleet telematics are proliferating, as are systems that provide 360-degree visibility from the driver seat, intuitive dashboards, and real-time safety coaching. Young truck drivers that are introduced to these technologies as soon as they enter the profession and use them to enhance the safety and effectiveness of their time behind the wheel can quickly build a sense of competence and satisfaction in the job that will increase retention.
Be transparent and communicative
Millennials have a particular interest in feeling that the leaders of their organization are transparent. These younger workers want to be provided with ample information about policies and changes in the workplace. They want to feel that they are respected as part of the team instead of treated as hired hands. Leaders looking to retain Millennial talent should cultivate the habit of providing transparent information and communicating openly and often with their workers.
Millennial workers are a high-value target for today’s trucking companies; they represent an untapped gold mine of talent in an industry that is struggling to find qualified candidates to fill seats. Fixing the truck driver shortage will depend in part on motivating them to become involved in the industry.
Providing positive feedback to young truck drivers who do take a chance on the industry can make a big difference in retention. Netradyne can help keep Millennial employees engaged via our positive recognition system — the only solution to offer this.
Schedule a meeting with us today to learn more about how Driveri can help keep drivers happy and improve retention rates.