Recruiting, Retaining Drivers Continues to Cause Companies Distress

April 1, 2000
THE TANK truck industry is experiencing a significant problem in attracting and retaining quality drivers who shippers, the public, and the carriers themselves

THE TANK truck industry is experiencing a significant problem in attracting and retaining quality drivers who shippers, the public, and the carriers themselves have come to expect and have every reason to demand. Without cooperation among carriers, shippers, and consignees, this problem will only get worse. John Conley, vice-president, National Tank Truck Carriers Inc, Alexandria, Virginia.

In the next 10 years, the transportation industry is projected to require enough drivers to fill 80,000 openings annually in order to deliver the goods produced by an ever-expanding manufacturing sector, according to some industry estimates. To meet the demand, carriers are polishing their recruiting methods looking for minorities, women, and citizens of other countries to boost their shrinking driver pools.

At the same time, carriers are scrambling to develop retention programs that offer tempting benefits for drivers who stay on the job. Despite all the effort, the situation has not improved. "We may not find enough drivers to fill the gap," warned Buddy Sexton, president of Quality Carriers, Tampa, Florida.

Robert Love, safety and quality vice-president of DSI Transports Inc, Houston, Texas, noted that there are federal propositions under consideration that, if implemented, would reduce the allowable driving time and make the situation even more pressing by requiring companies to employ more drivers.

Comments about driver shortages were made at Chemical Week's 5th annual Chemical Transportation and Distribution Conference January 17-19 in Houston, Texas. Joining Sexton and Love in the discussion was John Conley.

All agreed the driver situation is critical. The average driver turnover rate in the tank truck industry has risen considerably over the last few years and continues on an upward trend today. Companies are losing qualified drivers whose replacements will have to be trained before they can be put on the road. Training cost is estimated at about $4,000 per driver and can range much higher, depending on the program.

"We must have drivers who are professionals," Love said. "Drivers have to be familiar with chemicals, know accounting, and have computer skills."

Work Environment Sexton said the biggest disincentive to driving a truck is the reality of the job itself. "There are long hours on the road, weeks away from home and family, and the cramped quarters of a 64-square-foot sleeper cab all strong negatives. It's no secret as to why drivers are hard to attract when you add a heightened demand for specialized skill to a job that carries an extremely negative public image and low social prestige. Clearly, the operating environment alone affects even some of the most successful recruiting programs."

In addition to work situations are the many company mergers and acquisitions that have made drivers uneasy about their future prospects. Many have moved on to companies that are not engaged in restructuring.

One way to address the situation is to increase driver pay. "We can't continue not to pay our drivers in an appropriate way," Sexton said. "No matter how great our technology is, we can't eliminate truck drivers."

Conley estimated that the average truck driver earns about $35,000 a year. Sexton said annual pay should be increased, particularly considering the duties that are performed and that the driver is the carrier's on-site customer representative.

Driver retention also can be improved by treating drivers with respect. "Don't force drivers into situations that are dangerous," Love cautioned.

Carriers improve work conditions when they operate within federal and state regulations, establish hiring standards, and review pay practices, he added. Shippers play a part as well. "Insist on safety procedures with no waivers to drivers," he said. "Plan loads and be reasonable with loading and unloading times."

He asked shippers for assistance in a united effort to improve the situation and suggested they lobby for reasonable hours-of-service rules and funding for safe roadside rest areas that truck drivers can utilize.