Resolving the driver retention crisis
While the trucking industry has been put under further pressure by current supply chain issues, the real problem started long before the pandemic. Driver shortages were being felt as far back as 2005, according to a 2019 American Trucking Associations report.
Transportation experts argue that increased driver turnover is merely a symptom of a deeper issue related to driver wages. I argue that it’s not just about wage levels and week-to-week fluctuations in wages.
Guaranteeing high and stable driver wages would certainly help. But unless driver utilization, and, in fact, the driver’s actual experience is improved, this is a costly and ineffective solution for carriers.
Driver demographics are rapidly aging, with millennials and Gen-Z relatively uninterested in trucking careers compared to the prior generation. Some companies combat this reluctance by switching the wage structure from per-mile to salary to entice younger drivers. But, this isn’t solely a wage-driven issue. Drivers want to go home reliably and frequently.
Companies are attempting new approaches to remedy driver retention, such as breaking routes into relay legs, which enables drivers to get home daily, and carriers to fulfill long-haul obligations. Market research shows this to be an increasingly attractive perk.
The downside is that it puts more pressure on route coordinators, which only draws more attention to outdated, profit leaking, manual dispatch planning practices.
Ironically, in many cases, fleet managers exacerbate this issue by favoring tenured truckers with lucrative and fixed routes, affecting the health of the trucking ecosystem. Overhauling dispatch planning and coordination is critical to improving driver satisfaction and retention.
WINNING THE BATTLE
Planning routes is not for the faint hearted. Planners and dispatchers across nearly all fleets fight a losing battle every day. Drivers get delayed, appointments postponed or missed, orders are canceled. Any initiative to optimize drivers and assets is nearly impossible in a manual planning environment.
Optimizing fleet assignment certainly improves driver productivity and lowers costs for carriers. But this cannot be handled without support from advanced technologies that enable real-time tracking.
Using technology to optimize scheduling and maximize driver miles and utilization could be the industry’s saving grace. This will be critical to all fleets, large and small, and lead to higher and consistent revenue miles, and greater driver satisfaction.
LOGICAL DECISION MAKING
Taking an automated approach is a critical step toward resolving driver turnover. It also would yield another advantage in dispatch planning—there is no emotion involved in its decision making and decisions are equitable.
Consider the effect of being able to incorporate live road data to devise a seamless route, something akin to an app that takes into account real-time road conditions, truck capacity, and proximity to next pickup or dropoff, to optimize routes and driver efficiency.
Without endless pauses between drop offs, and drivers awaiting instructions, earnings would be maximized. Besides increasing efficiency, and therefore profitability, increased wage reliability would bolster employee retention.
New, innovative approaches, technology solutions and HR know-how can help optimize the labor force, resulting in higher, more stable wages, greater profits, and products shipped across the country more economically and seamlessly.