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Three trucking execs share how they fought the driver shortage

The most critical link in any supply chain is the people who power it. But what if companies can’t find them – or worse, can’t keep them? 

The ongoing turnover crisis in the trucking industry has exacerbated many of the issues affecting the supply chain over the past few years. Wage decreases, an increasing lack of work/life balance, fluctuating fuel expenses, and several other factors have led many drivers to leave their current jobs in favor of other jobs within the industry – that is, if they don’t leave entirely. 

How bad has it become? One recent survey of truck drivers found that more than a third of the respondents were planning to look for another truck driving job in the future. The American Trucking Association (ATA) reports a shortage of more than 80,000 truckers on the road right now – a shortage the organization believes requires an influx of more than 1 million new drivers into the industry over the next decade. 

Several panels at the CSCMP Edge 2022 Supply Chain Conference and Exhibition in Nashville touched on the ongoing shortage, with a particular focus on developing methods to recruit and retain drivers. One of the most well-attended panels covered the labor challenges associated with meeting today’s freight needs. The panel, Transportation Labor Issues and Opportunities, featured logistics executives familiar with the service disruptions and economic issues caused by this shortage. 

Why Can’t Companies Find Workers?

The panel discussed Logistics Management’s 31st Annual Study of Logistics and Transportation Trends in detail and found several worrying indicators for the immediate future of the transportation supply chain. For example, many respondents felt that the companies they work for remain ill-equipped to handle many of the industry’s problems.

In fact, the study found that only 23.7% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have the talent and skills to meet these challenges – and that 74% of respondents said it would be difficult or extremely difficult to fill those needs in the coming year. 

The study also revealed that companies are having a hard time finding workers, especially for general warehouse labor roles and skilled positions. More than four out of every five respondents reported that they found it was somewhat or extremely difficult to fill these roles, and that 90% of respondents reported difficulty in finding drivers and equipment operators. 

Why has recruitment and retention become so difficult over time? At least one panelist spoke of the sweeping changes that have rocked the industry since the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 deregulated the industry four decades ago. 

“The lifestyle has really changed, and that’s created some problems,” said Craig Callahan, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Werner Enterprises.

“This is an occupation that requires time away from home and a normal workday is 14-15 hours. I think we’ve made a lot of progress, but I think our industry has to move forward to keep up with current employment trends.”

Craig Callahan, Werner Enterprises

As those changes slowly led to what had become arguably the most severe driver shortage in history, many of the panelists agreed that organizations responsible for managing drivers have to become more adaptable – and that frontline leadership needs to understand and recognize these issues. The key, according to the panelists, was to develop and demonstrate the emotional intelligence necessary to give drivers what they need to succeed on the job.

Fighting the Driver Shortage 

In light of the severity of these threats to the transportation supply chain, what steps and strategies can companies take to improve driver recruitment and retention? Werner Enterprises, for example, sidestepped the difficulty associated with recruiting experienced drivers and acquired the Roadmaster franchise of truck driver training schools to recruit new drivers from outside the industry to develop them into the company’s future leaders. 

“Two-thirds of our current driver workforce came from our school network,” says Callahan. “They came to us with zero experience and we brought them to school and they finished our training program.” 

Werner is also taking steps to recruit more women and military veterans into the industry. The company’s driver fleet is 15 percent women, which is twice the industry average. One-fifth of the company’s drivers also have military experience, and the company has partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on an apprenticeship program designed to identify and develop new drivers, diesel mechanics, and transportation managers. 

Pennsylvania-based logistics company PITT OHIO has also started an apprenticeship/mentorship program for new hires, but the company also believes that retaining drivers also means setting them up for success by emphasizing safety, sustainability, and innovative vehicle technology

“We certainly invest in our employees,” says PITT OHIO vice president Brad Caven. “We put our drivers in late-model equipment with the most up-to-date safety features, and we are investing heavily in sustainability in both our buildings and our equipment,” which includes trucks, forklifts, and other crucial equipment powered by renewable energy. 

Another company, California-based expedited LTL carrier Daylight Transport, is using the power of transparency to retain its drivers by sharing company data with employees so that they can work with a strong sense of clarity about their roles. 

“We have found this brings our employees closer into the purpose of the organization and that affiliates them more with our short-term and long-term objectives,” said Daylight executive vice president Greg Steele. 

Tips and Tricks That Work 

These strategies have paid off. Daylight, for example, has promoted at least three percent of its new management employees from the driver ranks due to their transparency initiatives, which Steele says has sparked renewed curiosity and interest in the business. In the case of Werner Enterprises, their partnership with Roadmaster enables them to steer the school’s curriculum to focus on the skills necessary to become a more productive service provider. 

“We know that skills are important for safety, and [eventually] your customer experience goes up and ultimately, you’re a safer and better service provider for your organization,” says Callahan. 

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