A lot has been said about the talent shortage in the trucking industry, both with the companies that provide, as well as buy trucking services. Trucking companies have an acute shortage of skilled drivers.

A number of factors are contributing to this shortage, including demographics. According to the ATA, the average truck driver age is 48, and only 7% of truck drivers are women. It’s also hard to convince millennials that trucking is career worth considering due to several factors, perhaps most of all the hard lifestyle - being away from home, sitting for long periods of time, and eating on the road. And most long-haul truck drivers end up sleeping in their trucks to save on the cost of motels. The lifestyle isn’t the only challenge either; multiple job-related pressures result in the average annual turnover rate for long-haul truckers to top 90%.

So what should leaders be doing to both attract and retain talent?

1. Improve the company culture

In addition to offering higher pay and attractive benefits, building an inclusive and supportive culture is critical. There is a need for deliberate and frequent engagement with employees on a personal level, including showing appreciation to workers of all levels. There is a greater emphasis and awareness today on the importance of employee well-being (especially mental health), and for truckers, as remote workers, communication is a key factor. CEO engagement with drivers and frequent communication really matters.

The role of the CHRO and the HR function are becoming increasingly important in these organizations today. While it’s acceptable to outsource the HR administrative functions, leadership needs to have a prioritized focus on talent management. Younger workers in particular can be skeptical of authority. Employees want to work for a company that is perceived to be ethical and one that cares about its people; repeated employee surveys show that younger workers want transparency and values in the company’s management and communications.

There’s an old saying: people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. And it’s true. Organizations can implement training for mid-level managers as an effective tool to improve employee engagement and retention. Specifically, training in emotional intelligence – EQ -- which includes skills like active listening, communicating with empathy, and diffusing conflict can make the difference between retaining a high potential employee or not.

Employees are drawn to organizations that look after individuals’ careers and where they feel valued. This requires hard work and those companies that do it will have an advantage in attracting and retaining talent.

2. Improve operations to focus on employees first

Many carriers manage operations to minimize cost or maximize equipment utilization and customer profitability, which historically were the top priorities behind safety. Given the current situation, the opportunity exists to adjust operations to be more attractive to talent, which will allow for growth in a very strong demand environment. The bottleneck to growth and increased profitability is drivers, mechanics, and to some extent good supervisors/managers. Balancing people with profits must be at the forefront of every CEO’s mind.

Carriers that take meaningful actions to change their operations and internal processes to truly put drivers and mechanics first will come out significantly ahead in growing their fleets.

For mechanics, it is about paying market rates and keeping enough talented staff on board that the crews do not have to run significant overtime every week. Experienced mechanics are harder to hire than drivers in many markets.

For managers, it starts off with assessing capabilities and aligning the ideal resources to the needs of the role versus promoting primarily through seniority. As noted above, a sense of community or belonging to something more than just a job is essential for retention. Managers that are trained to take an active interest in the personal lives of their reports help with retention of both the workers and the managers themselves. Having clear career paths and investments in management training are keys for success.