When shelves started running empty as COVID-19 swept the globe in 2020 and supply chain issues continued to worsen, many people began to recognize the vital role trucking plays in maintaining their overall standard of living.
Mike Bash, an 18-year trucking industry veteran who chairs TCA’s Recruitment and Retention Committee, said this awakening has provided a narrow window during which the industry can capitalize in the ongoing battle to attract and retain drivers. And he’s calling on everyone in the industry — from his committee members and national leadership down to individual companies — to do just that: Attack the problem on multiple fronts.
“Recruiting and retention has been in the spotlight, and has for years,” stated Bash, who serves as vice president of capacity development for Bison Transport.
“That in itself is nothing new, but today I think the biggest piece for (a carrier) is not a focus on one thing,” he continued. “It’s everything; it’s your total package and executing recruitment and retention efforts across your entire business. Every role, every office, every cubicle is focused on recruiting and retention efforts. It’s really not a singular approach.”
Bash said one example of this all-hands attitude is dispelling negative stereotypes about truck driving careers. These beliefs continue to malign the profession as low-skill, low-tech work with zero down time for little money.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to help educate the public on the technology that we have in this industry,” he said.
“I still think there is the perception out there that trucking isn’t much different than it was 15 years ago, which in reality there’s been a huge technological shift in how things are executed in the truck with the features that are out there,” he shared. “I think we’ve got an opportunity to educate the public and help draw people in who are attracted to the technology that’s in these vehicles.”
Another stumbling block is the public perception that truck drivers are rarely home and that most of them drive grueling cross-country routes. Bash said while that may have at one time been the case, the industry is changing rapidly, thanks in large part to the pandemic.
“If you look at customer networks, where are their warehouses popping up now? How are they restructuring their network?” he asked. “Carriers don’t want this long-haul freight, so there have been quite a few customers that have come out and invested very heavily in their networks to say we’ve got to create freight where we have drivers to haul.”
While the pandemic has played a role in this shift, there are other factors at play.
“I would say COVID escalated it for sure, but in the last five years we have really shifted from a majority of over-the-road freight to regional dedicated, home daily, home every other day jobs,” Bash noted. “Home weekly or better makes up about 75% of our jobs in our fleet today.”
Bash, whose serves as vice president of capacity development for Bison USA, a 300-truck operation based in Wisconsin, says he is excited about measures that have recently come to pass.
Restroom legislation, which makes it state law that truck drivers are afforded restroom access in certain businesses, has been introduced in Washington and Pennsylvania, he said, which helps improve working conditions for drivers.
Other measures, particularly those directly targeting the number of new drivers, were also steps in the right direction, he said, especially as the Department of Labor has rolled out partnerships that help carriers implement such programs.
“One of the big topics for TCA right now is the (young driver) apprenticeship program. It helps educate people on what’s out there and what these trucks can do,” he noted.
“The deterrent and the challenge that’s there with (apprentice) programs is the administrative burden. There’s so many requirements and data you need to provide, as well as registering and getting drivers certified, getting them trained,” he explained. “TCA partnered with Fastport to help carry the administrative burden of the apprenticeship program, and they have been a key player in simplifying those things for carriers to make this more usable. It’s a really good program.”
Bash also sees potential in tapping into underrepresented segments of the population, including women. He says the committee is not only looking for ways to attract more women to truck driving, but also discussing ways to address issues today’s women face when out on the road.
“A topic that needs more attention is diversity in the industry, namely women in trucking,” he said. “We’ve had some recent discussions on truck parking as it pertains to women in the industry and how to improve the safety of truck parking. That’s a topic we plan to spend some more time on here in the coming months.”
Trucking’s labor issues won’t be solved by Washington, Bash said, and with but a few exceptions, he gave federal legislators low marks when it comes to proactively helping the industry. Because of this, he issued a call to all TCA members to get involved in the process of crafting solutions through the national committee.
“This is really a call to action to members and those who would be interested in becoming members, to join the recruiting and retention committee,” he said. “Ours is a member-only committee, and our goal is to address the issues and provide products, education, and resources on topics that members want to hear about. We spend a lot of time determining what our members want, what our carriers need, and then providing and serving the trucking community here at TCA.”
Every member of TCA has a voice, and therefore the ability to help shape policies and legislation.
“I’d really like to make this call to action for everyone to get involved, help direct us on issues and topics and to generally be a part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Bash concluded.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.