Recently, I attended a high school graduation and was impressed with the commencement speech delivered by the class president. What struck me most was his comment about success. He defined it as the ability to adapt to challenges and change.
After thinking about his comments, I realized how appropriate they were for the trucking industry. Trucking faces many challenges and changes today: Equipment and maintenance managers are dealing with new engine technologies, operations managers are struggling with fuel price fluxuations and recruiting/safety managers are wondering how they are going to fill driver seats.
Of these, I believe the biggest challenge is to retain good drivers and owner-operators while bringing new ones into our industry. The freight market is the hottest it’s been in a long time. The new hours-of-service regulations have put many fleets in a real productivity crunch. All of this means the driver shortage, which had tapered off during trucking’s lean years, is back. With a vengeance.
So where will these drivers come from? Historically, many veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars chose trucking as a career, but soon they will all be retired. Finding the drivers to replace them and beef up the overall driver population is a huge problem with more questions than answers. That’s why keeping the drivers and owner-operators you currently have is absolutely critical.
The way to do that, says a trucking company executive I spoke with recently, is to make sure you haul driver friendly freight. He outlined four criteria: 1. Does the load pay well? 2. Is the load an easy pick-up? 3. Is the load an easy drop-off? And, 4. (for owner-operators) Does the load destination have a good backhaul opportunity?
As if consistently offering driver friendly freight isn’t tough enough, high fuel prices and the new hours-of-service rules are making it even more difficult to keep drivers happy. Vern Garner, president of Garner Transportation, Findlay, Ohio, and former chairman of the American Trucking Associations, says that even though he paid for detention time, his driver retention didn’t improve until he convinced many of his shippers to go to drop and hook operations. Drivers, he said, “are not meant just to sit.”
Obviously not all loads will be driver friendly all of the time. But by working with your shippers to ensure that most loads meet these criteria, you’ll be taking a good first step toward keeping your drivers and owner-operators happy. And that will help them – and you – be successful.