The trucking industry is much more in the public eye today than it has been in recent years.
As a critical link in the supply chain, trucking has been a hot topic in the media throughout the pandemic. All of this attention means that truck driving as a profession is now viewed with greater respect and appreciation, both as an irreplaceable part of the economy and a source of growth for people entering the labor market. work. But the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on trucking and transportation, leaving truckers stressed. These same drivers are now literally and figuratively in the driving seat to push their industry to a new level — but are employers ready to listen and change?
Last year, Centerline Drivers surveyed both truckers and business owners for insights into the transportation industry, and these are the key takeaways about the state of trucking today.
Pay boom or pay bust?
Competition, inflation, and the growth of the e-commerce industry have all led to significant increases in driver pay rates, especially over the past year. However, 55% of drivers still do not think the compensation is competitive enough. Rising wage rates are nearly offset by inflation in some parts of the country, and while 68% of employers plan to step up and raise wages this year (compared to just 44% in 2021), those increases are nominal, only $1 or $2 per hour.
Salaries remain a main attraction for employees, as well as a motivating factor for performance. By increasing wages (not to mention improving benefits and incentives), trucking companies can hire the best workers and keep them happy and productive in their jobs. In the long run, higher wages are an investment in higher profits because more productive and dedicated drivers will create fewer problems and more positive results.
Support for wage increases is not surprising given the heavy toll trucking takes on drivers’ daily lives, especially in recent years of increased demand and strict scrutiny. Healthcare professionals have been at the forefront of the conversation about burnout in the wake of COVID-19, but critical workers like truckers deserve equal attention in broader national conversations about the burnout and fatigue.
Health and well-being are receiving increasing attention in the industry, as many truckers report suffering from driving ailments. Almost half (49%) of drivers say the sedentary nature of sitting inside a truck has caused them to gain unhealthy weight. This weight gain is compounded by poor nutrition as 35% of drivers resort to fast food due to the demands of the road. Truckers also cite knee, back and shoulder problems when sitting in cramped driver seats for long periods of time.
While many drivers try to make mental and physical health a priority (66% strive to eat healthy meals on the road and 62% try to exercise when not driving), this n is not always accessible. And 12% say they do nothing to take care of their health.
Safety is at the forefront of every driver’s mind, and growing safety concerns are putting mental pressure on them. The main security problem for 71% of truck drivers are distracted while driving, especially other drivers. No less than 75% believe that fatigue is a real problem for drivers, which has been on the rise since 2021, while 66% considered it to be a problem. Severe fatigue is not surprising when drivers report getting only 5 to 7 hours of sleep per night, which is well below the recommended hours of sleep for adults. This only underscores the toll of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of drivers.
Like many essential workers, truckers have suffered tremendously from the pandemic (38% of drivers have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, from catching the virus while driving, having to take caring for sick loved ones or even losing family to illness). Given these losses and impacts, home and family in general are top concerns for drivers, with 38% citing them as their top concerns.
It’s time to get creative with recruiting
Perhaps the most pressing problem for trucking is the difficulty of recruiting new drivers. A majority (72%) of employers say they have difficulty finding drivers, up from 57% last year. Yet less than 25% do something creative to promote recruitment. Even those using creative methods seem to be doing the same thing: more money for social media, advertising, bonuses, pay raises, and standard incentives. New ideas are needed to generate the excitement that will attract new drivers.
One way to attract new workers is to explore diverse talent pools. Most employers (92%) and even drivers (83%) believe the trucking industry is diverse, but on average, employers say their workforce is less than 10% female. Diversity can mean many things (gender, ethnicity, age, national origin, sexual orientation and more). Given the consequences of burnout and mental and physical well-being, there may be an opportunity to stand out not only by recruiting from a diverse pool, but also by rewarding recruits with better benefits and support. to work-life balance.
The future is fast approaching, but are we ready?
To attract high school graduates into the trucking profession, the federal government is considering lowering the required age for drivers to 18. It’s one of many new solutions to industry dilemmas, but despite this huge opening in the talent pool, 46% of drivers think it would be a negative change.
Ultimately, the companies that will thrive will be those that don’t necessarily listen to conventional wisdom. Young drivers are one idea, but it’s also possible to tap into different talent pools. A nurse recently changed careers to truck driving, and many industries have surprising crossover characteristics that apply to trucking. Companies could also tap into groups of compatible subcultures, such as motorcycle enthusiasts. After all, 21% of truckers own a motorcycle.
The bottom line(s)
The bright future of trucking depends on the bright future of truckers. Employers who take the best care of their employees will ultimately win in the marketplace. Salary expectations for drivers have risen with inflation and need, so paying competitively is the best way to attract and retain top talent. The best leaders will also understand that taking care of a driver means taking care of the whole person, on and off the road. The mental and physical well-being of drivers must be a priority, and programs to better meet their needs are essential to keep drivers productive and safe on the road.
But first we need to make sure we have drivers to support. Recruitment has stalled, with many employers stuck with the same tried-and-true and now less-than-true methods. The industry needs fundamental change, and fast. As with other highly competitive spaces, like technology and nursing, diversity is the way to go. Trucking as a whole needs to expand its appeal to a wider audience, including young people, women, and new racial and cultural groups who have already made inroads in the field.
Employers and drivers must embrace change, and fast. As technology becomes more pervasive inside and outside the cab, the industry must adapt while ensuring truckers stay motivated, healthy and competitive.
Who is a truck driver, according to Central Drivers Survey?
- First Generation – the first in their family to enter this career
- Have a high school diploma or college education
- Listen to R&B and classic rock
- Valuing independence and compensation
- Don’t make them drive as a team! Only 23% said they would like to do it again
- More than half are willing to move for a driving job opportunity
- 7 out of 10 drink coffee
- On average, started driving at age 31 and plans to retire at age 66
- Main motivating factors: compensation, route types and work-life balance
- Most have over 5 years of trucking experience
- Average age: late 40s to early 50s
- Top places on their to-do list for driving: Florida and Alaska
Jill Quinn is the Executive Director of Centerline Drivers and PeopleReady Skilled Trades, driving business growth and performance excellence and cultivating customer partnerships for these two TrueBlue companies. With 25 years of leadership experience, Quinn’s knowledge and expertise ensures clients receive the skilled tradespeople or skilled drivers they need to drive their business forward. His passion for making a difference in people’s lives by connecting them to work has led to many successful partnerships between customers looking to grow and a skilled workforce that deserves great opportunities.