Money Talks

In recent years any number of products have been marketed to the trucking industry as driver retention tools. From condo-style sleepers and air-ride seats to automatic transmissions and satellite radios – all have been touted as means of attracting and keeping drivers.
While feature-packed new equipment is certainly one factor that drivers consider when evaluating what carrier to sign on with, the bottom line – money – still talks.

Over 76 percent of respondents to a Truckers News survey said pay structure is the most important factor when signing on with a carrier. After pay, medical insurance was a key factor for 62 percent, and time off ranked high for another 56 percent. New equipment was listed as a key factor by 37 percent of respondents.

Better pay is the key factor in job-hopping as well. Of those drivers who changed carriers recently, more than 39 percent said they left because they wanted better pay, which should come as no surprise since more than 78 percent of those responding to our survey said they thought they were underpaid. Only 21 percent reported being satisfied they were paid what their work was worth.

The second most common factor prompting drivers to leave a carrier is respect. Twenty-seven percent said they changed carriers because they thought their previous employer was not being straight. Veteran drivers say mutual respect between drivers and company personnel is key to driver retention. Butch Olson has 26 years with Umthun Trucking of Eagle Grove, Iowa. The Thor, Iowa, native is a Truckload Carriers Association Driver of the Year, and says he has stayed with the same company for so many years because of “the way I’m treated.” His advice to fleet managers: Treat drivers with respect and you will get the same in return.

Do you think you are overpaid, underpaid or paid what your work is worth?

Time off and time away from home continue to be critical issues when truckers contemplate changing carriers. Twenty-one percent of our respondents said time at home was a factor in their recent decision to change carriers, while 10 percent said that more time off was a factor. Those issues are even more important when drivers evaluate a company to sign up with. More than 55 percent said time off and the time away from home the job requires were important factors when looking at a potential employer. Still, the results show that while many factors are important when deciding to join a company, better pay is the key issue in deciding to change carriers.

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On the other hand, a solid percentage of drivers don’t change jobs that often, according to our survey. Despite the notion of widespread, constant driver turnover, a third of survey respondents said they have not changed carriers within the last five years, while another third have worked for only two carriers during that time. Still, a rather high number of drivers do change jobs often, with 19 percent of survey respondents saying they have worked for three carriers over the last five years. And a sizeable 14 percent report they have worked for more than three carriers in that time.

Even among the job-hoppers, over-the-road truckers continue to be a seasoned bunch, with more than 47 percent of our survey population saying they had more than 15 years of experience behind the wheel. Another 17 percent reported 11 to 15 years of experience, and only 16 percent reported less than five years of driving experience. The percentage of less experienced drivers is down some from a 2000 Truckers News survey, when 22 percent of the respondents said they had less than five years of experience.

Despite believing they are underpaid, most truckers would hit the road all over again, given the chance. Nearly 53 percent said they would still drive truck if given the opportunity to start over. Almost a quarter, 23 percent, said they would get into a different line of work if they could, while another 24 percent expressed ambivalence about their job, saying they weren’t sure if they would do it all over again.

That ambivalence extends to how truckers view their job as a career for their son or daughter to enter. While more than 50 percent said they would again choose trucking themselves, only 39 percent said they would recommend trucking to their son, daughter or other relative. Thirty-six percent said they would not recommend trucking, while another 26 percent were unsure.

Company drivers are almost equally divided on their plans to join the owner-operator ranks. Forty-nine percent of company drivers said they would like to become owner-operators, while 51 percent said they do not want to become an owner-operator. Current market conditions could be depressing drivers’ desire to strike out on their own, as previous research showed slightly more company drivers wanting to become owner-operators.

Generalizing from survey results is often a tricky business, but our research shows that most over-the-road truckers are experienced professionals. A third stay with one carrier for at least a year and another third have changed jobs only once in the last five years. Truckers are committed to their industry, with more than half saying they would make the same career choice if given the chance to do it all over. They just want to be paid more.

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