TBA Truck Driver Articles

 We have published several hundred articles involving the transport and energy sectors. We are making some of them available online, segregated by topic and date (most recent first). Feel free to review our hits and misses in the detail – and we welcome the opportunity to help you with any of these topics in your business.

Australian, North American and Western European Truck Driver Issues and Solutions are Similar

 Author: Jay Thompson  First Published: July 14, 2006

Immigration is a political hot-potato, but is a cornerstone of growing economies – and an approach that has worked well in US occupations from farming to highly technical ones. There are plenty of people wishing to immigrate, but governments have recently become more cautious for numerous reasons, including transportation security. The government that takes the right approach with policy, background checks and the right trucking company’s treatment of people will see success. 

There are people lessons that developed countries can learn from each other. Some people wish to come to work and then go back home, while others want a new life. Immigration should be viewed in the context of adding to the workforce versus displacing someone or to address turnover / churn (as some trucking companies view it). There is a hierarchy of jobs internal to an industry and there is competition for the people in jobs outside the industry. It shows in part that to be successful, one must be doing something they like with someone they like and to have a home life, so trucking companies also must do things differently.

Australia, Western Europe and North Americaare undergoing similar demographic trends. We have aging populations (workforces), lower birth rates, plenty of jobs, more mobility, less company loyalty and other similar issues. Additionally, truckers are primarily rural folks and the trends have been people moving to the cities. While Australiaand the USare similar in size, much more of Australia’s population (up to 90%) is around the coasts with little in between (in the outback). Understandably, an Australian over-the-road driver has a much lonelier job than anywhere else in the world, making it a tougher life and bigger problem. 

The issues can be seen in numbers. The key age groups for trucking (and other jobs) are growing slower than the economies of those countries. Additionally, local and regional jobs are sought by TL operators over a certain age in part due to family considerations. That can be seen in low turnover rates and in effect no shortages in the US of higher paying LTL jobs, regional work and lower-paid Intermodal drayage operators. This will not change for the majority of over-the-road operations, except for those whose customer base allows for some types of relays, bid or predictable runs. While targeting immigrants in the age group where there is a void, trucking companies still should address the environment (e.g. regularity of work schedules) to keep them. With costs of turnover averaging $5,000-$8,000 per person or adding up to 6 points operating ratio, the cost of utilizing (and even training) new hire immigrants is an effective option – even they leave when their visa expires after the first year. 

Regardless of the country, one must recognize that only a certain number of people accept such a nomadic lifestyle and that this type of job has the largest growth potential. Surveys show that the industry has more of a “driver environment” (treatment) problem than having to do with pay. This is one reason many have seen exceptional success with former USSR immigrants in trucking, because they understand this lifestyle, money and opportunity. 

Immigration works if one gets both the governmental and job issues right. The US however is currently in a bad political mood regarding this. Since 1990, companies in the US that want to employ foreigners as truck drivers generally have two legitimate options: the H1-B and the H2-B work visas. The H1-B allows a foreigner to enter the U.S. to work in a skilled profession for a period of three years, renewable up to six with many ultimately getting permanent residency. The US Labor Department (and other countries) however does not classify truck driving as a skilled profession. The H2-B allows a foreigner to enter the U.S. as an unskilled worker for one year, renewable up to three years in certain cases (e.g. a demonstrable labor shortage). 

The Australian, Canadian and UK laws are similar to the US – and therein lies opportunity and they are actively looking at reclassifying those jobs to skilled ones. The costs and high turnover (especially at some large fleets) versus length of stay when foreigners come in on a H2-B (non-skilled) one-year visa needs to be addressed, as one can end up with a negative cost-benefit when they leave within the first 3 months, as is the norm. While some are concerned about individuals’ backgrounds, interstate truck drivers must be legal immigrants to be properly licensed and insured, unlike other similarly classed jobs in other industries. Systems are in place for the transportation industry to do that. There have been horror stories, where the systems were gamed through fraudulent applications, bringing people over as one type worker then switching, driver leasing schemes, having folks classified as driver trainers, etc. The Teamsters have also actively campaigned against such programs.

There have also been a number of success stories in the US getting people from Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and even other developed countries. This writer has owned companies that have effectively utilized foreign drivers (even some from the Arkansas – Australian / New Zealand debacle). In many cases, these people are grateful for the work, for the highway system (relatively speaking) and to the people helping them. A majority of the dray drivers today in the Long Beach / Los Angeles area are Hispanic immigrants (granted with issues). Along with the personal drive to leave their own country, immigrants are also motivated to move up. In trucking, they become independent contractors or have started their own trucking companies, bringing over more of their fellow countrymen. 

To summarize, the long-haul segment will continue to be challenging and immigrants have always filled voids needing workers. This will show in the bottom line as both better utilization and lower recruiting costs (not lower wages). The immigrant / migrant worker process is a good and legal way to get the best of the best from other countries and send the others back home. The focus should involve getting the visa classifications to legally match the numbers of jobs / type of work and to continue to adapt trucking operations to better address driver’s personal lives. We otherwise end up running the risk of churning drivers among countries like we do today in the US among major carriers.