Trucking Companies Add Extras to Retain Drivers

In response to tight profit margins and a critical shortage of qualified drivers, the trucking industry is working hard to offer non-wage perks to recruit and retain drivers. Currently, the industry is short 100,000 drivers, and the problem is predicted to get worse. Research firm Transport Fundamentals predicts a shortage of 250,000 drivers by the end of 2013.

Companies are upgrading their cabs to more spacious models to increase driver comfort. Con-Way Truckload has gone so far as to purchase a variety of cabs for test-driving, then using driver feedback to make fleet purchase decisions.

Other extras being added to cabs include Sirius XM Satellite Radio, DVD players and navigation systems. Some companies are easing restrictions on driving teams and pets to entice drivers to stay.

Small performance-based wage increases are used by Swift and other companies. Tuition reimbursement and flexible schedules for drivers who also farm are other benefits being offered.

New stricter hours of service rules coupled with more stringent safety and health regulations are contributing to the loss of drivers. Currently, up to 90 percent of truckers quit or are fired in their first year on the road, according to the American Trucking Associations. Many older drivers who pushed back retirement when the recession hit plan to retire in the next few years.

Truck stop corporations like Pilot and TravelCenters have spent millions in the last few years to upgrade their facilities. By improving truck stops, the companies hope to ease the loneliness and other challenges of life on the road. Many are offering healthier food choices. Perks like upgrades to showers and restrooms also help the facilities to stay profitable.

Many larger truck stops have added a host of health-related features. Some offer medical or dental clinics onsite. Others have added gyms, jogging trails and even physical and massage therapists to help drivers stay healthy.

Truck stops are adding features to increase comfort and alleviate boredom on longer mandatory down times. Game rooms and movie theaters are becoming standard features. Banking services like ATMs, check cashing and Western Union money transfer are common, as are FedEx or other shipping services. Internet access and other business-related equipment are common, while some stops even have barbers onsite.

While all the perks make life on the road a little easier, stagnant wages are a real problem in keeping drivers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual pay for a truck driver is around $40,000. Electricians average $53,000 and construction laborers make an average $45,000 per year. Although trucking wages have risen from 0.5 to 1.5 percent per year over the last three years, fuel and other expenses have also risen during the same period.

The added amenities make the weeks on the road a little easier, but trucking companies may need to increase the rates they charge shippers so wages can be increased. Higher wages and more time at home would be effective enticements for more workers to enter the trucking industry.

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