The driver shortage is going to continue vexing the trucking industry for some time to come, if for no other reason than there’s no other way to move the bulk goods around America. You can buy the flashiest and most comfortable trucks, establish speedy drop-and-hook lanes, yet it all amounts to nothing without a driver in the seat.
A lot of carriers blame over-regulation as the issue driving away folks willing to pilot big rigs for a living, and there’s a lot of truth to that – to the point where some industry experts believe raising truck weight limits could be a potential cure for the ills of such “regulatory drag.”
Andy Ahern, CEO of consulting firm Ahern and Associates, Ltd., used the changes made to hours of service (HOS) rules last July as an example of how “over-regulation” is making the truck driver’s life more difficult.
“In order to understand the impact on the industry, as a whole, it is important to understand the impact on the individual business environment,” Ahern noted in a recent missive. “Rules limiting the number of hours that a commercial driver can be on the job directly results in a drop in the productivity of each driver and trucking company. On an individual level this also directly impacts the earning potential of truck drivers who now make less money in one of the highest stress and difficult industries in America.”
This worsens an already existing driver shortage with driver availability in a steady decline over recent years, Ahern added.
“According to statistics from the American Trucking Association and other industry bodies, in 2012 the industry was short about 113,000 drivers per year. With the recent impact of the HOS ruling [last July] this number is expected to almost triple to 323,000 by next year,” he said. “To complicate matters the industry is facing an aging driver pool with fewer and fewer new drivers entering the industry to replace retiring drivers or accommodate the continuing growth in demand for freight and trucking services.”
Yet at the end of the day, it really comes down to the simple stuff: the pay, the time away from home, and the nature of the work. And those aren’t issues limited to trucking, mind you: they are ubiquitous throughout the American labor force.
For example, take a look at the results from the most recent Workonomix survey from Accounting Principals and conducted by Braun Research, Inc. (BRI) of 1,024 working adults, aged 18 and older, back in January.
That survey found an overwhelming majority of Americans (79%) would prefer a 5% raise over an entire extra week of paid vacation (20%), and further found that workers value financial compensation so much more than time away from work, money is what they focus on most in job negotiation: to the point where Americans say they are more likely to negotiate salary (30%) rather than a flexible schedule (15%) or additional time off (10%).
Even if they only had to forfeit a very small portion of their salary for extra time off, Americans would still prefer to keep the money, noted Jodi Chavez (at right), senior VP at Accounting Principals.
According to the survey, 85% of respondents would not forfeit any amount of their salary for their work day to be shortened by one hour. Of those, 50% said they can't afford it and 35% are simply not interested. Similarly, 77% are unwilling to give up any amount of salary for their work week to be shortened by one day.
"We are now more than five years after the recession began and while unemployment numbers continue to decrease, working Americans are clearly still feeling financially insecure," Chavez said. "For these hard workers, the value of that extra money in their pocket to help with bills or put toward savings far outweighs any other type of perk, such as more vacation time or a shorter work week."
Much of this thinking is likely due to the fact that respondents believe they are not fully feeling the benefit of extra money they've already received, she stressed.
According to the Workonomix poll, though 58% of Americans said they received a raise last year, only 16% believe it improved their lifestyle. Of those who received a raise, 29% put it toward helping with daily living expenses, 21% put toward savings, and 18% paid off debts.
Interestingly, Millennials were most likely (27%) to cite feeling an improvement in their lifestyle from a raise, compared to older generations such as Gen X (18%) and Baby Boomers (10%).
That’s not to say time isn’t important to Americans, for the survey found it ids – if they're spending it with family.
When asked what they would do if they had an extra free hour a day, 48% of Americans said they would spend it with their family, while 45% said they would run errands. Gender impacts the way Americans would spend their extra time as men said they were more likely to spend time watching TV (25% men versus 18% women) while women were more likely to run errands (38% men versus 51% women).
"Workers may be ultimately choosing money over time, but they still highly value and prioritize what they do with their spare time," noted Chavez. "Giving employees a few options for workplace perks that help them maximize their time between work and life will help keep them satisfied and motivated."
Now here’s an interesting caveat to all of this: another survey on workforce attitudes finds that many employees want out of corporate life altogether and would even be willing to take a pay cut – if (and this is a BIG ‘if’) they could still pay their bills.
This comes from a new national study commissioned by online education firm CreativeLive that found even in this still-uncertain economy, 40% of employed Americans say they want to leave corporate jobs, with a further, 41 million employed Americans willing to take a pay cut for a job that allows them to be more creative; of course, as mentioned before, they still earned enough to pay the bills.
Underscoring the growing interest in creative career pursuits, this report – called the Creative Jobs Report and based on a survey conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll in early March among 2,112 adults ages 18 and older – found that over half (55%), or almost 78 million employed U.S. adults, would jump ship from a traditional job to be self-employed if they could still pay their bills.
In addition, 36% of employed adults want to quit their current jobs in search of something more creative – what CreativeLive Co-Founder Chase Jarvis termed a “massive and growing creativity crisis.”
Particularly of note: Millennials, aged 18-34, are most likely to prioritize careers that allow them to make a positive social impact as 31% of employed Millennials report that working with creative people is very important to them.
Additionally, the report found that 35% of employed Millennials say having a job that makes a positive social impact is very important to them, compared to just 19% of employed adults aged 35 and up.
In examining gender, it appears men are leading the charge when it comes to seeking out creativity in the workplace, with 23% of employed men saying they want to find a job that allows them to be more creative than the one they have now, as opposed to 14% of women.
Now, driving a truck and “creativity” are not exactly two things people put together in their minds. But if pay within the truck driving profession could be tied more directly to “creative” pursuits of improved efficiency, fuel economy, and other metrics, maybe that could help the industry tap into this groundswell of dissatisfaction in the corporate world.
“The reality of the situation is that there are not enough drivers to support the demand in the economy and the freight industry is already challenged,” noted Andy Ahern in his missive about HOS reform.
“Yet despite the challenges facing the trucking industry with the HOS ruling and the chronic driver shortage, there are still opportunities for those who are aware and willing to adapt,” he stressed. “There can be no doubt that these are tough times for the industry but if you are able to take an aggressive approach this can be the beginning, rather than the end.”