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To Fill the (Generation) Gap in Truck Driver Recruitment, We Need to Make the Industry More Attractive

The current truck driver shortage is discussed almost daily in the trade press but many shippers complain of difficulties staffing depots, warehouses and DCs, too. In fact there are problems with attracting, recruiting and retaining employees across the logistics and transportation industry.

The problem is becoming urgent as the economy continues to grow. This report in Bloomberg argues, “Without enough trucks and drivers on the road, some combination of things is going to happen: Shipments will be delayed, and producers will have to pay higher prices to get goods to market.”

Of course, you can make your delivery operations as efficient as possible with routing and scheduling software, trimming the need for drivers to the minimum (you should be doing this in any case). But that doesn’t solve the whole problem.

The real challenge in solving the truck driver shortage is that transportation just isn’t appealing. A life behind the wheel of a truck needs to be made truly attractive to young people looking for a career. How do we make truck driving look cool to Generation Y and beyond?

Simply put, truck drivers are retiring, and younger drivers are not replacing them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average age of a commercial truck driver in the U.S. is now 55 – about 10 years older than the average age across other comparable industries like manufacturing and construction.

How do we fix the problem?

Some have suggested lowering the minimum age for gaining a license to drive a truck across state lines from 21 to 18. That might well catch youngsters when they’re making decisions about embarking on a career, but it’s unlikely, on its own, to solve the problem of failing to appeal to the under-50s.

Why don’t young men and women like the idea of driving a truck? The pay compares favorably with jobs in the food service or construction trades – coming in at an average of $45,000 per year, but reaching an average of $73,000 for drivers in private fleets, according to CNN. Further, a career in trucking offers the chance to escape the confines of an office and roam freely on the open road, but it seems these benefits are not enough to outweigh long hours on the road away from home.

Overall, industry commentators agree the lack of appeal is a knotty problem, and a pressing one. A better approach might be to emphasize the factors that youngsters respond best to.

1. Emphasize the cool new technology

One thing truck driving has going for it is that, despite its grimy, low-tech reputation, it is actually quite high-tech.

Drivers are in the thick of technological advances designed to make their jobs easier and more technology-rich, for example, the use of GPS to pinpoint the exact location of a delivery address and smartphones for point of delivery tasks. Technology can facilitate live interaction with customer service at the point of delivery via photos and text, so that any problems with the delivery can be addressed instantly.

Routing technology also offers a better working environment for drivers. When route execution software tracks the actual routes taken compared to planned routes, drivers that do a good job are rewarded with a prompt end to their working day. They can leave at the end of the shift without having to hang around for a driver debrief.

Another technology that makes life easier for drivers making deliveries for large grocery store chains is the advent of arrivals boards at each store. These show accurate predictions of shipments arriving, allowing store managers to get the relevant staff ready to unload when a truck arrives. This makes sure that food items are on the shelves faster and drivers don’t have to hang around, which is better for everyone.

If and when drivers graduate to a transport management role, the task of routing deliveries with the latest technology (such as Paragon’s) is beginning to feel more like an air traffic control center, with staff watching deliveries happen in real-time. Live updates stream in from all vehicles out on the road enabling the transport office or customer services team to respond to challenges on the fly, using multiple technological resources.

Better technology also helps meet the desire to improve the world, since driving a truck that’s been routed via route optimization software reduces greenhouse gas emissions. This will appeal to younger generations, who frequently cite environmental concerns as important to them.

It would be great if transportation recruitment managers emphasized the fact that, in technological terms, transport can really be quite cutting-edge; even cool.

2. Tell them they’ll be valued and rewarded

According to this survey by Randall-Reilly, 67.6 percent of truckers say they don’t feel respected. Technology can help, as high-tech routing and scheduling means drivers get more fair treatment when it comes to assigned routes. There is far less chance a planner will be able, consciously or accidentally, to play favorites with individual drivers, leaving the less attractive routes consistently to others.

Routing and scheduling software also allows planners to respect any number of driver needs, such as getting home early on a Friday, avoiding certain routes, and maximizing earning power under the Hours of Service rules now more strictly enforced via mandatory Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs).

Additionally, connected technology means that drivers aren’t left to deal with customers on their own if there’s a problem on site. They can share info with customer services or head office straight away, often enabling them to solve the problem on the spot, and leaving both the driver and the customer happy.

For planners, their role now offers the opportunity to make a contribution at every level of the company, driving important changes in efficiency and customer service, often generating daily reports to senior executives. Planners are in a position to identify how the company can save money by cutting fuel costs or improving customer service and be recognized and appreciated for doing so.

Get ready for the next (next) generation

Members of the Generation Z (born after 2000), who are just beginning to come into the workforce now, want different things out of life than the generation that preceded them. This article from Forbes advises that employers looking to recruit members of Generation Z, who witnessed the impact of the Great Recession of 2009 on their parents, may be able to tempt them with promises of job security and raises down the line. This has to be combined, however, with a good work-life balance. That demand is not going away.

Many Gen Zs are skipping college, too, moving straight into the workforce in order to avoid the years of debt that come with a college education, so recruiters will need to rejig their parameters when it comes to qualifications on a resume.

Shout it from the rooftops

Overall, everyone in the industry needs to do a better job of promoting a career in transportation, by explaining how the job has become far more sophisticated through the use of technology.

Gone are the days when a planner was one of your ex-drivers who is now expected to do “a bit of planning” without proper training. It’s now a real profession.

It needs to be clear, also, that drivers can get fairer treatment in the new world of delivery routing and scheduling.

The logistics industry in general is notorious for failing to blow its own air-horn. With all the positive developments underfoot, it’s time to change that. Let’s make a career in transportation cool and worth aspiring to!

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