We reached out to organizations that provide services to motor carriers, owner-operators and drivers to find out what they see as the main challenges facing the industry today and how they can be addressed.
A total of 14 individuals responded to our interview requests and followed through with the process. They serve the trucking industry in various ways, some as professional consultants, some as health experts, some as vendors. While each respondent brought a unique view to the study, their answers as a whole shed a collective light on a central issue: the driver shortage.
By far, the most commonly cited problems in trucking were the related issues of driver recruitment and retention. Nearly 60 percent of respondents pointed to the driver shortage as a major factor in the logistics industry. The next two most popular answers, driver health and wellness and regulatory compliance, seemed to come out as the causes of the shortage symptom.
“The main problems would be health and wellness and the driver shortage, and I think they kind of go hand in hand,” says Melanie Shiell, a life coach with OTR Wellness. “You see a lot of drivers exiting the industry because of health and wellness problems and things like that.”
“We’re losing men and women quickly because of the fact of injuries by themselves,” agrees Barry Pawalek, CEO of Truck Stop Events. Pawalek points out that people who are overweight, as is a large portion of the driver population, are slower to heal from injuries. Sometimes they are forced out of the cab completely. Sleep apnea, another major health concern sometimes related to weight, is both a health problem and a regulatory problem.
“Society looks at drivers from a labor standpoint as being an unskilled workforce,” says Lew Grill, owner of Lew Grill Specialized Services, a consulting and training company. “You will find that in the European Union, it’s a skilled workforce.”
“Drivers are sometimes some of the lesser respected members of society, and they deserve to be some of the more respected members,” agrees Dennis Bridges, a CPA with eTruckerTax. “If it were not for them, the economy would come to a screeching halt.”
Grill recommends establishing a program of upward mobility to incentivize drivers to stay in the industry. Current logistics company models are essentially static, failing to recognize and reward drivers for their skills and experience.
“It starts from the top, and it filters through the bottom,” says Chris Shrader, owner of Bayshore Transportation Consulting. “If at the top, the culture is only to make profit at the expense of whatever it takes to maintain that profit, and that might be at the expense of the employee, the chances of driver turnover are really high.”
The question of profit could ultimately be at the heart of the entire puzzle.
The potential for solving the driver shortage, as well as its underlying causes, is unclear. It seems to call for spending money where there is none to spend and for setting rules where there are already too many.
“We don’t want government control, but we certainly need government subsidy,” says Michael Wiedman, sales manager for Unlimited Green Fuels. “There needs to be a new standard for how to do business.”