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Saturday, March 30, 2013

What the Frack(ing) is going on? How do we keep future truck drivers?

Can employers be more proactive?

I've been employed by my company for over twenty years as a driver and trainer with my division being involved in third party logistics. Over the past several years especially, it has been much more difficult to attract and retain quality Class A drivers at various accounts within our own company and I know it is a industry wide problem that is getting worse, not better.

As an example, consider our recent experience in Montana. We have a remote location in that state with two drivers domiciled there. Trailers full of customer product are brought from back east and our drivers then take the trailers, delivering peddle stop to retail stores throughout the intermountain west and northwest. They usually have 20 to 30-plus stops on each trailer.
These are over the road jobs and they leave out on Mondays and usually get home late Friday.
They make decent money, but the booming oil fields are in direct competition in that area for truck drivers. I know that oil field work is certainly not a "piece of cake" and usually includes long hours but at least they get home every night. I have heard of annual incomes in the 60 to 80 thousand dollar range, which is substantially more than our drivers can make. Why take an over the road job, be gone from your family all week, every week and make less money than you can make in the oil fields? We had both of our drivers give notice within four weeks of each other.

Is there a solution and what is it? Do you design the routes in a way that we have the drivers domiciled in another location where there is less competition? I don't know, but suspect that is probably what our company will have to do. This may be only a temporary fix, however.

Maybe it is time to rethink the problem. 
I think a lot of trucker job dissatisfaction has to do with quantity and quality of home time. Money is important, but not the only thing. What if we could find a way for these two drivers in Montana to make about the same money, but have them work two weeks on and one week off. That could easily be done by having a third driver. What if, instead of giving drivers a Freightliner tractor with a small sleeper and no storage space, we get them a decent road tractor. If we want them to live in a truck all week, they need decent living quarters. Meaning, enough room for a refrigerator and television as well as a workstation for cooking and getting on-line. Who can afford to eat in truck stops every day, except maybe those 80K a year oil field drivers?

Of course the employer’s wage and benefit cost would increase by one third. Part of that cost could be offset by designing six day routes instead of five.The upfront cost of an upscale Pete or Kenworth would be 10 or 20K more but, of course that is written off over several years. One way or another, with all the competition out there for fewer and fewer drivers there will be no alternative but to dramatically improve wages and/or lifestyle in the future.

I guess my main point is that just throwing more money at them will not solve the problem. Our industry needs to attract new professional drivers. Many are unwilling to make a job be their life. A long haul trucker’s life is not an easy one and most drivers, need a better quality of life with more home and family time. In my opinion, employers that come up with ways to improve driver's lives will be the winners in the future. It can't just be all about work!


  1. You make some great points Dan. A few cents more per mile, respect for home time and less stress with better planning and better living conditions on the road would go a long way in attracting and keeping drivers.