We’ve been blogging a lot lately about the boom in e-commerce and how it’s driving advancements in logistics technology. But all the innovations in the world won’t do googlers much good unless a real human being picks up and delivers the goods. Right now the growing truck driver shortage is looming as a major supply chain constraint.
Recently the American Trucking Associations stated that on average, trucking will need to recruit nearly 100,000 new drivers every year to keep up with demand. For this we can thank the one-two punch of industries getting healthier and truck drivers getting older—and retiring. In the meantime, as we reported earlier this year, driver hiring has increased more than 20% compared to the same time last year.
A big problem with hiring truck drivers is that these are hard jobs—both hiring and driving. Truck driving is especially hard for family people. This job takes them away from home for days on end. And combined with the hours-of-service rules limiting the time a driver can spend behind the wheel, it’s plain why carriers and shippers are scrambling for alternatives.
Rail is one of those—especially as it relates to intermodal transportation. It keeps drivers employed by dray carriers closer to home and rail’s scheduling is more predictable.
On the bright side, hard times bring out the best in tough business people, and the trucking industry is blessed with some of this country’s toughest and smartest entrepreneurs. Take, for example, RWI Transportation in Wilder, Kentucky. It is an asset-based logistics company providing regional and national truckload, expedited, and refrigerated warehousing services. Its management doesn’t worry about being able to hire enough drivers. They focus their energy on retention—and have been pretty successful at it.
This company relies on owner/operators to manage more than 100,000 shipments each year. It recently reported that through driver retention strategies, it maintained an 83 percent turnover rate during the second quarter of 2013. That figure doesn’t sound too impressive until you realize that the trucking industry’s average turnover rate is 99 percent for large truckload fleets (company drivers and owner operators), according to the most recent American Trucking Associations Trucking Activity Report.
I contacted Daryl Harmon, director of driver recruitment, training and retention for RWI, to see if he would share their secret. From his response, it sounds like he might be angling for a different title—one without the word “recruitment.”
“We have put full emphasis on our retention efforts this year instead of taking the typical trend of increasing recruiting efforts,” he said. “We do not want a revolving door at RWI. The more we improve our retention, the fewer candidates we have to bring on board, and the less we have to use our recruiting efforts to maintain our fleets instead of build them.”
Driver maintenance is a huge factor and less expensive than recruitment, according to Harmon. For RWI, maintenance means:
- Performance recognition programs;
- Driver education, providing tools and resources to help them become a better business owner (owner/operator);
- Working with “struggling” drivers on areas such as fuel efficiencies inclusive of mpg, fueling practices and idle time;
- Providing a forum for drivers to communicate concerns—with 100% response, coaching and follow-up.
Harmon says it all comes down to treating drivers as human beings. They need to feel a connection with their jobs and valued for their efforts.
“If you establish programs with this in mind, you will begin to see the results we are experiencing,” he concluded.
This isn’t just a trucking thing, or even just a logistics thing. It boils down to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.