Driver shortage means opportunity
Apr 1, 2004 12:00 PM, Editorial By Charles E Wilson
WITH the economy growing and truck fleets busier by the day, this industry should be generating new jobs in the United States by the tens of thousands. That's not happening, though, for a variety of reasons.
Job opportunities certainly are there. Many tank truck carriers report that they need 10% to 15% more drivers to meet current shipper demand. Tank cleaners are in short supply at many wash racks, according to tank cleaning facility managers.
In comments after a press conference at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, Mack Trucks President and CEO Paul Vikner said the truck builder's dealers need at least 800 mechanics and technicians immediately. The Mack dealers certainly aren't alone in facing a shortfall of skilled personnel.
All indications suggest that worker shortages in the trucking industry will only get worse in coming years. The truck driver shortage is a particular concern, because they are the largest single employment segment of the industry. Tank truck carriers alone employ an estimated 200,000 drivers.
Even more alarming is the aging of the driver force. There's a lot of gray hair. Many tank truck fleets report that the average age of drivers approaches 55 and is rising.
Lifestyle changes seem to have had a big impact on driver supply. People want to be home every night with their families, and other employment choices make that possible. They don't want to be absentee parents.
Truck driving is no longer glamorous, and that is hurting efforts to recruit new people. It is seen as a hard, dirty, thankless job. Basically, it's become a secondary job choice.
Unintentionally, the new hours-of-service rules may be making the job even less appealing. Some drivers report that they no longer have time for meal breaks. Worse, they can't stop to take a nap if they are tired once the clock starts on their shift. The HOS rules were supposed to eliminate fatigued driving, but they may be making it worse.
Pay is too low to offset the lifestyle issues, and the new HOS rules have aggravated the problem. Under the new rules, drivers have one hour less of work each shift. They've also lost productive driving time due to loading delays and other issues. That's money out of their pockets.
Based on an unscientific survey of tank fleets, pay levels for company drivers currently range from $30,000 to $75,000. Owner-operator settlements are in the $120,000 to $130,000 range.
Pay is such an issue that quite a few individuals signed up to drive tank trucks in Iraq for Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root. In recent weeks, we've seen how risky that job can be. That's desperation.
In order to offset the lifestyle issues, tank truck fleets in this country need to offer driver pay averaging $75,000 to $80,000. Owner-operator settlements also need to be significantly higher. And that's just a beginning.
Operations need to be modified to ensure that drivers have the opportunity for more time at home. This may mean more regional activity or more relay operations. Every effort should be made to maximize the amount of miles a driver can run on each shift.
Customers must support the effort to improve driver conditions. This starts with paying substantially higher rates to cover pay increases. Customers also need to become more accommodating. They need to work with carriers to eliminate loading and unloading delays and address other issues that hurt driver productivity.
This is a golden opportunity for tank truck carriers if the industry stays united. The driver shortage means capacity already is constrained. Fleets are turning down or delaying loads, which means shippers aren't in the driver seat. It would be best to keep capacity tight and let cargo sit. That's the only way to ensure that driver conditions improve.
Finally, tank fleet managers need to take a hard look at recruiting strategies to attract the drivers of tomorrow. What will it take to draw younger people into this industry? The answer will determine the future of tank trucking.
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