Trucking associations are ready to address the concerns facing their members’ drivers on the road. Drivers are dealing with many challenges— from infrastructure issues to pressure from the supply chain—and associations are looking to take action by addressing those difficulties head-on.
The Obstacles Drivers Face
Across the industry, association leaders are learning there are opportunities for improvement when it comes to the well-being of truck drivers.
British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) President and CEO Dave Earle said his organization is concerned about the impact of the vaccination mandate on cross-border travel and how many drivers will be unable to work cross border. He also mentioned the ongoing struggle with continuous infrastructure maintenance demands.
“Infrastructure is always an issue, but it always improves over time,” Earle said. “We have seen major projects throughout the continent, but ultimately they’re all local in nature as the impact is felt by those using what’s built. It takes decades, but resolution is possible.”
Earle said the real frustration with infrastructure is when one area is addressed, another typically emerges. “Frankly speaking that’s a good sign as it indicates growth,” he said. “Infrastructure will be a perennial problem, but it will always be addressed.”
Alabama Trucking Association (ATA) Senior Advisor Ford Boswell said the pressures of the supply chain are the greatest threat to the industry and the economy, with an urgent need to get drivers turned around quickly.
“If [drivers] aren’t rolling, they’re not making money,” he said. “If there’s any delay, that’s holding up the supply chain, and holding up a truck driver’s livelihood.”
Boswell also mentioned the need for more training and safety programs to not just fill driver seats, but find qualified and dedicated individuals with a real interest in the industry.
“We want drivers who are professional and safety conscious,” he said. “With the need for more drivers it’s hard to be selective, but better training of drivers is one area where fleets can step up.”
COVID-19, Physical, Mental & Financial Health Concerns for Drivers
Idaho Transportation Association (ITA) President and CEO Allen Hodges is mainly concerned about the more than 50% of drivers across the industry who are unvaccinated. Multiple news outlets have reported on the looming COVID-19 vaccination mandate from President Joe Biden requiring private companies with 100 employees or more to require vaccinations or have unvaccinated employees tested weekly.
“With the upcoming vaccine mandate they say it’s about health and safety,” Hodges said. “If it was truly about a person’s health, then why exempt only employers with under 100 employees from the mandate? This threshold will cause drivers to look for a job with someone under the 100 employee mandate to avoid the vaccination.”
Hodges said on top of the drivers that don’t want the vaccine, a large percentage of the current drivers that are not vaccinated have stated they will quit driving altogether.
“The industry cannot afford to lose any more drivers,” he said. “Canada is exempting drivers from their mandate, why can’t we exempt them also. Being in a truck alone is a pretty safe place to be compared to the grocery store.”
There’s also concern around truck drivers' mental and physical health. Ohio Trucking Association (OTA) President and CEO Thomas A. Balzer, CAE said his membership is interested in focusing on the overall respect of drivers and how they are being treated on the road. Balzer said drivers he has spoken to on his travels have mentioned things such as lack of parking, availability of showers, and food options at certain hours.
“Carriers are asking shippers if they offer facilities available for their drivers, the average detention time, and other questions that impact the drivers’ overall productivity,” he said. “It is becoming very important during this time of limited workforce availability that all the players are respectful of the limited time drivers have to do their jobs.”
Boswell said he has seen nutrition and excessive weight gain as ongoing issues throughout his interactions with drivers over the years. These physical health issues can lead to diabetes or fatal heart conditions for drivers.
Earle pointed to driver psychological health as a significant problem that needs to be addressed regularly.
“A driver’s work is inherently isolating, and without a regular means to raise and acknowledge everyday stressors, adverse health consequences follow,” he said. “If there is one thing that COVID has taught us is that we have underestimated the value of simple interaction in our daily lives. For drivers, rebuilding those links will be harder due to the nature of the work they do.”
Working to Make a Difference for Drivers
The trucking industry is resilient and associations will work to make changes that will help drivers bounce back after catastrophic circumstances.
Balzer and Boswell both mentioned increased pay and decreasing the length of haul as positive improvements for retaining and recruiting drivers. Both areas increase productivity and help drivers feel valued.
“Pay is always an issue in any industry, but this is especially top of mind within the driver community,” Balzer said. “Companies have recognized that and have implemented pay increases, bonuses, and some have even put in guaranteed weekly pay.”
Boswell said fleets are also focused on improving route conditions and getting drivers back home more often. He said some companies are acquiring newer equipment with engine improvements and developments in telematics to help drivers feel more comfortable in their trucks.
“As we rebuild our social network, it’s going to change,” Earle said. “We’re going to realize the value of personal interaction and we’re going to have to find better ways to involve drivers in it.” Boswell said ATA is working with a marketing firm to craft the right messages to rejuvenate the industry and get more people interested in becoming drivers.
“What we can do is attract folks into the industry and get them on pathways whether it’s driving or just being around it and learning fleet management. Terminals. Docks. There’s lots of things to do to showcase that it’s more than just driving a truck,” he said.
He said ATA is working on a workforce development program to bring more workers into the system by partnering with technical schools, community colleges, and driver schools. The association’s message is to show how being a truck driver has the potential for sustainable growth, a good income, and a stable way to provide for a family. ATA also recently started a CDL driver program in south Alabama.
“It’s something our members have said they wanted; a strategic way to build up the industry,” Boswell said. “We realized we can say that we need drivers, but if we’re not showing how to become one, that needs to be our job. What is the step-by-step process? Where do you start, where do you go, how do you get trained? That is why we started working with the two-year colleges. That is part of our contribution to helping as far as drivers go.”
Earle, Hodges, and Balzer all mentioned the importance of reassuring drivers of their value to the industry and the supply chain.
“Deliver on promises made,” Earle said. “This includes the mundane of regulatory changes to the deeply personal such as changes in hours worked and remuneration models.”
He said the industry needs to enhance its focus on fundamental operational changes in the sector to start to see a real difference.
Hodges said associations should work on helping drivers know how essential they are during these turbulent times.
“Explain to the drivers that they are playing a big role in helping Americans get the needed medical supplies, food, fuel, and other necessities that we need daily to survive,” he said.
Balzer said the companies he has seen be most successful are those who are transparent with their drivers, listen to their concerns, and make adjustments when they can. He shared his suggestion to lessen the stress around driver concerns in just a few words. “Show them the love.”
Technology’s Role in Enhancing the Driver Experience
Empowering drivers with in-cab technology is also a crucial component in improving productivity and the overall driver experience.
Reach out to us today to learn more about Trimble’s comprehensive portfolio of solutions aimed at making the transportation supply chain better for drivers, fleets and everyone they serve.