The overriding issue that besets almost every fleet owner and manager heading into 2014 is the ability to recruit new truck drivers and technicians.
I read an article on Businessweek.com recently that talked about the ongoing shortage of truck drivers. Those of us in the industry deal with this issue continuously. But the numbers are even worse than I thought.
According to the article, “Why No One Wants to Drive a Truck Anymore,” the U.S. governments projects that more than 330,000 new drivers will be needed by the year 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the average age of current drivers is 55-plus, so the severe shortage may be here sooner than anyone anticipated.
We all know why it’s so hard to find and retain long-haul drivers: It’s those long stretches away from home and family and too much time spent eating unhealthy food and getting too little exercise. Those were always the drawbacks to driving a truck.
But nowadays, you can add in the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules that limit the time spent driving, which means drivers who are paid by the mile are now losing money they once relied on. So where are the younger potential drivers going? Now that the economy is starting to recover — especially in the housing market — many of these younger people are going to construction jobs, which pay better than the average truck driving job.
To combat this, some fleets are offering signing bonuses or offering to pay for driving school tuition. But as an industry, it still feels as though we’re just running to stay in place.
And if you think this is just an American issue, better think again. An earlier Businessweek.com article, “Germany Wants More Truck Drivers,” shows that this is an international problem. The fast-paced Autobahn demands highly trained professional drivers, but fewer young Germans want to pursue this field. In fact, 40 percent of Germany’s truck drivers are expected to retire in the next decade. And our European counterparts face even more stringent regulations. Certification takes three years of training, and the potential drivers need to prove they understand customs regulations, practice fuel-efficient driving, and know traffic laws. Plus, they face an onslaught from foreign competitors who pay their drivers much less — sometimes 90 percent less than the average German driver. Yet German drivers can’t take big pay cuts because the cost of living in Germany is so much higher than in many other EU countries.
David Deon, president of Velocity Truck Rental & Leasing, a NationaLease member, said he empathizes with the situation in Germany. “Velocity Truck Rental & Leasing is located in Southern California, one of the most expensive areas of the country to live in. When our customers have gone out of state to driving schools to recruit new drivers, they have to deal with the perception that these drivers won’t be able to afford to live here.”
And as bad as it is to find drivers, it’s even harder to find diesel and commercial truck technicians. Experts predict that from now until 2030, the U.S. will experience a severe technician shortage as current workers retire.
Nearly a decade ago, the Department of Labor estimated that there were 606,000 diesel technicians (this figure also includes, bus, truck, heavy-duty and farm equipment mechanics). At that point, the department estimated that the industry would need 205,000 more technicians by 2014 to fill new positions or replace retirees. We’re not even close.
Plus, with all of the new complex technology in today’s vehicles, it’s even more important than ever to have younger, tech-savvy technicians. According to Andy Stopka, vice president of maintenance for NationaLease, a big part of the problem is misperception regarding the job and the industry. He is hopeful that programs like ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council’s annual SuperTech competition will help improve the image.
He indicated that the key to attracting new candidates would be for the industry to better educate young people about the realities and rewards of the job. I couldn’t agree more.
Editor’s Note: The following blog post was written by Jane Clark, vice president of member services for NationaLease. Before joining the full- service truck leasing organization, Clark served in executive positions with some of the nation’s top staffing and recruitment agencies. Her posts appear at www.blog.nationalease.com.