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  • Allen Czermak

The Truck Driver Shortage Of 2021

One of the hot topics in the logistics industry is the truck driver shortage. There has been lots of local news coverage on this topic but the same issue exists on a global level as well. There has been a spike in demand for shipping worldwide ever since the onset of the pandemic back in March of 2020. Logistics companies are trying to respond by revving up operations but there is one missing component, the driver who operates the truck. Even with all the technology in the world we are still subservient to tractor trailers hauling cargo to its final destination. Even with containers arriving at the rail yards, there still needs to be a drayage company hired to receive and deliver the goods. For this the logistics industry relies on the human element to handle the cargo and there are simply not enough drivers to go around.

However, after doing a bit of research and listening to the truck drivers themselves speak, the story seems quite different. They claim that the truck driver shortage is nothing more than a myth and it all comes down to money. Truck drivers feel that they are not getting compensated for what they deserve for a job that takes up 15 hours of your day and takes a toll on family life. From their point of view it appears that the “truck driver shortage” is not a lack of operators but it’s a lack of pay. With the cost of living on the rise, these hard working men and women can barely pay for basics, let alone live comfortably.

Confirmation Hearing For Polly Ellen Trottenberg, U.S. Deputy Secretary Of Transportation

On March 3, 2021, at the confirmation for Polly Ellen Trottenberg, United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation, United States Senator Todd Young expressed concern over the trucking industry's growing driver shortage and the impact it could have on the supply chain. After Polly affirmed that she would be committed to the senators request, she used different verbiage and said that she would be willing to work on "driver retention". What was apparent between the exchange between Senator Young and Polly Trottenberg, seems to be an issue of logistics companies losing drivers to better pay elsewhere, not that there was an actual driver shortage.

The United States has always been dealing with a retention problem. According to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics, the average American, ages 18 to 32, will have had 8.2 jobs. On an average that means he or she is holding down a job for less than two years. Therefore the Deputy Secretary Of Transportation, Polly Trottenberg was bringing up a valid point, that the problem is “driver retention”, not that there is a “driver shortage”.

However, the logistics companies argue that there are other elements and policies that are fueling the so-called “truck driver shortage” that is only exacerbating the supply chain nightmare. According to POD Logistics, President & CEO, Benjamin Ganz, who was addressing the issue of the truck driver shortage, “government unemployment policies have made it worse, but that is not the only issue. Being a truck driver requires a willingness to go to driving school to learn how to drive and follow regulations, taking responsibility for safety, getting properly loaded and unloaded, and showing up on time every day. There aren’t enough people willing to take that on.” As for every story there are two sides. The truck drivers are claiming that the pay is simply not cutting it and the logistics companies are saying that government policies and driver education are the root cause of the problem.

Solution # 1 - Pay The Drivers More Money

We know that the truck drivers are not happy with the pay and are simply not motivated to get off unemployment and kick their truck into gear. One of the few magical elements that has seemed to work over the course of history is to pay your worker more money. Shipping companies that offer a decent salary with benefits will quickly fill the positions for operators.

It sounds like a simple solution but in order for logistics companies to remain competitive they have to keep their shipping rates within reason. If they choose to solve the truck driver shortage by increasing salaries by 15% across the board, chances are that they will have to increase shipping rates as well. If this were the scenario that would play out, shipping companies will pass the cost along to the customer, who will ultimately pass the cost along to the American consumer. This will only make it worse for hard working families trying to make ends meet.

Solution # 2 - Make Trucking An Attractive & More Lucrative Position

There are many challenges that truckers are faced with on a daily basis. While customers don’t really care what occurs on the road, truckers do and it contributes to them not being in the driver's seat.

Parking: Surprisingly, one of the biggest issues for truck drivers is not being able to find a parking spot to go to the restroom or to pick up food. Keep in mind that long-haul truck drivers can spend weeks at a time on the road and not being able to find parking is a huge hassle. If The U.S. Department of Transportation could implement policies that obligate states to accommodate more trucks in rest areas, and local truck stops, it can help to keep experienced truck drivers on the road. Unfortunately, truck drivers all too often are left to park illegally just to use the bathroom and end up getting ticketed by local police. For us the matter may seem insignificant but parking is a major issue for both long-haul and OTR drivers.

Drive Safe Act: The Drive Safe Act is a piece of legislation that includes having 18 year old's start training early and get a CDL license sooner. The government would host an apprentice program that would train these young drivers and get them into the truck driver seat sooner, making them eligible to fill empty positions across the shipping industry. Though it sounds like a simple solution, no one wants to sacrifice safety by saddling these young folks up to a big sixteen wheeler rig. However, the solution to that is for them to have to log a certain amount of hours riding shotgun, followed by a larger amount of driving prior to being paid as a full time truck operator. With proper oversight, a solid apprentice program can get both young and old on the road soon to alleviate the issue of the truck driver shortage.

Driver Health & Wellness: Driver health and wellness plays a big role in whether or not people remain on the job or not. Over the course of many years driving takes a toll on the person's body and they are forced to retire or look for a job outside the trucking industry. If only there can be more of a focus on the physical and mental health of truck drivers, perhaps they won’t quit the job. It’s very hard to be away from family for such long stretches and it can be quite lonely being on the road day and night. Not sure who responsibility this is but implementing incentives for healthy eating and mental breaks can only help keep these drivers on the road. Regardless, it's an issue which needs to be addressed across the board.

Final Words

In all truth, both the logistics companies and truck drivers are right. As explained above the issue of driver retention has always existed and has only gotten worse with the increased demand for drivers due to the pandemic. It’s in every industry in the United States that employees are leaving jobs for better pay elsewhere. As per the trucking industry, operators will be quick to leave their posts for more money at another company. Some are simply making more money by staying on unemployment and just sitting on their couch and watching television. Regardless, these drivers are not being retained by their current logistics employer. Since that's the case, owners need to sit down with the top executives and figure out a program to keep these folks on the job. If they can do that chances are they will attract others to join their shipping company.

At the same time, the government has to begin to lessen the regulations that are impacting a trucking company's bottom line. Deregulation will lead to lower operating costs and the savings can be passed onto the employees by increasing wages and adding benefits. Whether they do that or not is up to them but the last thing anyone wants is to pass the costs onto the American consumer. If the cost of living gets too high we will reach the threshold of dissuasion and consumers will simply stop spending. That's definitely not the road we want to go down. This will be bad for the U.S. economy which is a volatile state with inflation on the rise. Hopefully, both truckers and their employers can figure this issue out to avoid more costs being pushed onto the American people.



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