Have you ever reached a point in your life when you had to pony up? A time when you had to muster up the courage to just go for it? If so, how did you respond when this happened? Any long-haul driver knows what I am referring to here. I am now considered an old-timer, but when I was 18 years old my father said, “You have been trained and you have your license so I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t take this rig to Waco, Texas.” That was 40 plus years ago.
I believe the first time each of you went solo, you felt a rush! You might have been scared senseless but the feeling of being in charge was incredible. The sense of independence was priceless. Can you think of any other job where you could get this rush? I can’t! I immediately loved the feeling. From that point forward, I was hooked. It was a Friday night when the old man threw me the keys and said, “Be there on Monday morning and don’t be late.” When Monday morning rolled around, I was there and I was early. More importantly, I felt I was now part of a community of great truck drivers. Man, that was cool.
I drove for 10 years and during those days, there was a Code of the Road which unfortunately is missing today. If a driver saw a broken-down truck, he or she stopped and lent a hand. No questions asked. Maybe some of you are still doing this but sadly, the gesture is becoming less frequent. In my case, I picked up a driver on the 401 whose truck had broken down. The guy was at least three-quarters of a mile from his rig. I am sure dozens of trucks whizzed by this driver before I stopped. My old man would have rolled over in his grave if he thought I was one of those truckers. Had I done that when he was alive, he would have given me a major butt kicking. Simply put, you did not turn your back on a fellow driver in need.
So when, or why, did things change? I am not going to try and analyze it but, in a nutshell, I think it is a combination of the changing face of our industry. We have drivers who are good but know nothing of the “soft side” of trucking. As this industry continues to change, let’s look ahead and see if anything can be done to change our current situation. Let’s start by implementing a sense of community, a Code for the Road, and improved wages for deserving drivers.
I don’t mean to broad stroke the entire industry this way as there are exceptions. TCA’s Highway Angel program significantly highlights the heroic actions of many drivers. Other associations and individual trucking companies reward similar actions. Now, having recognized these folks, I wonder if any of those drivers had to break company policy in order to do the right thing? I also wonder if management called some of them on the carpet once they were out of the spotlight?
I sympathize with association leadership, on both sides of the border, who try to solve this problem. Trucking Moves America Forward (TMAF) is a program driven to heighten exposure and is overseen by my good friend, Truckload Carriers Association’s Past Chairman Kevin Burch. There is also the slogan of the Ontario Trucking Association, “If you got it, a truck brought it.” These great programs and slogans are an attempt to change the image the public has of our industry. I have often wondered how frustrated leadership must be when large amounts of money continue to be spent trying to create a positive image especially when you consider that, due to COVID, driver and owner operator turnover rates are currently under control. However, when things get back to normal, I predict we will fall back into our old ways. While we are spending millions of dollars to improve the public’s image of the industry, we should also be trying to correct the internal image we have of ourselves.
Consider the individual who drives long haul for a living. When you take this driver’s annual income divided by the hours spent driving, the individual is probably working for minimum wage or less. The exception to this would be those top carriers, regardless of size, who adequately reward their workforce.
As we all know, COVID has revealed the vital role the trucking industry plays in the daily lives of the public. As a result, truck drivers are receiving the accolades they rightly deserve. However, I question how long this new-found respect will last once COVID is under control.
While building a program called the Driver Retention Masterclass, I researched Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. if you are not aware of the thoughts published by Abraham Maslow back in the ‘40’s, it is well worth your time. Maslow professes there are five levels which each of us instinctively tries to reach. It is just part of our DNA. The first level is physiological meaning food and drink. In today’s world, that translates to drivers’ wages. Without this level being satisfactory, coupled with no sense of community, nothing else matters. Until adequate wages and a sense of community are achieved, drivers will continue to look for greener pastures.