Trucking industry’s challenge: signing up young drivers
The nation’s shortage of truck drivers comes at the same time warehousing and distribution are churning in Northern Nevada amid a bustling economy and a busy holiday season.
The American Transportation Research Institute’s annual Critical Issues survey this fall listed the driver shortage as the top concern of more than 1,500 stakeholders, including carriers and drivers.
That presents a challenging scenario for locally owned firms like ITS Logistics, where Jim Dingman, president of fleet operations, sees a long-term challenge in filling drivers’ seats being vacated as older drivers approach retirement.
“We have an aging workforce, and the industry has done a poor job educating potential new drivers,” Dingman said in a recent interview with the NNBW. “Not a lot of young people are coming in while there’s more and more demand to transport goods.”
He said Millennials generally are shunning traditional careers like trucking; they view trucking as unattractive and are drawn more to the high-tech world.
“We’ve raised a generation of people who don’t want to use their hands for anything but a computer,” he said.
To counter that, Dingman believes the ground transportation industry has to change its mindset.
“They still operate as ‘us and them,’ ” he said of management and drivers. “That has to change. It’s one team now. That’s what we try to preach here.”
Dingman said when he started as a truck driver in the 1990s, there was little if any support from the management offices.
“You had to figure it out, get a map or find a pay phone,” he said. “That was the norm. We made our own bed. We set ourselves on this path 30 years ago. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get around that.”
To Dingman, “It’s business psychology 101. How do you make trucking cool again? My dad was a driver in the ’70s, and it was cool.
“We have to figure out how to make the driving life easier. It’s more than a job; it’s a lifestyle.”
To that end, competition for drivers is high as jobs are plentiful, he said, and qualified drivers with Class A commercial driver’s licenses are presented with full benefits as well as signing bonuses, in some cases as much as $10,000.
That can crimp companies’ efforts to retain drivers, Dingman said. The key goal is to keep drivers at least six months.
“It’s about loyalty. If we can keep them six months, we keep them three years,” he said.
And more and more, companies like ITS Logistics are spreading the bonus out over the course of months or years to minimize drivers’ bonus-chasing.
“We want to be in long-term relationships with our drivers,” he said.
“No company is bullet-proof. With the economy doing so well, drivers can sometimes do better going into construction. The goal is to keep them here.”