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Companies must see drivers as human beings, not commodities

Pay cannot make up for a need of an increased focus on a better driver experience

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Most of the factors impacting the supply chain today – shortages, fuel prices, consumer expectations – are more or less uncontrollable. One of the industry’s most infamous ills, however, is somewhat less mysterious. 

Driver recruitment and retention issues plague companies across the transportation space, making it difficult to keep trucks outfitted with highly trained, experienced drivers. Organizations have rolled out hundreds of financial incentives to get drivers in seats, but the real winning strategy may have more to do with respect than money. 

“I think we’ve looked at drivers as being commodities, not human beings with thoughts and feelings and emotions,” Port X Logistics Partner Adam Cunningham said. “In this climate, drivers can do whatever they want and make good money. In order to retain drivers, you have to bring something more than just money.” 

In most companies, drivers are seen as their own entity, separate from the rest of the company. This makes sense on the surface. Drivers lead very different lives, spending little time sitting behind a computer screen and more time rolling down the highway. When looking past surface-level differences, however, it becomes clear that drivers are human beings with connection and belonging needs, just like everyone else.

Port X aims to create an environment where drivers feel like part of the greater team, not sequestered from it. 

“When we talk to drivers, we want to know about their family lives and the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis because those things are going to influence their performance,” Cunningham said. “It is about reaching your hand out and looking at someone as an actual human being.”

Practically, valuing drivers means putting in the work to make their jobs – and lives – easier. Pay is an important piece of the puzzle, but once drivers are making a comfortable wage, throwing more money at them will not fix the issues they face on a daily basis. 

“Yes, pay them more. But all participants in the supply chain need to collaborate better so drivers are getting emptied quicker,” Cunningham said in a recent Port X blog post. “Make shipper facilities more attractive to load and unload. Treat the drivers like customers. Give them an incredible experience and they will repay that in hard work, commitment and passion for the job.”

Cunningham’s post was inspired by a speech given by South Carolina Ports Authority Vice President of Sales and Marketing Micah Mallace. This ongoing conversation highlights a slow but steady turning of the tide within the logistics industry as folks continue to wake up to the everyday importance of the truck driver. 

Port X is aware of the importance drivers play in its overall mission. As such, the company looks for the same value in all its hires: An eagerness to learn, a strong work ethic, a creative mindset and a friendly attitude. This is true for drivers and back office staff alike.

“We place a lot of emphasis on whether someone will be a good cultural fit,” Cunningham said. “You can hone their skills, but that can’t replace how they treat people.”

Click here to learn more about career options at Port X.

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.