National trucking association based in Missouri says truck driver retention, not shortage, is part of supply chain problem

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:18 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:30 PM CST
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GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. (KY3) - Most of the time when you see an empty shelf at the store or get told that item you ordered won’t arrive for months, you get the supply chain disruption excuse.

You know, all those ships sitting off the coast.

A lack of workforce including semi-truck drivers.

According to the American Trucking Associations based in Arlington, Virginia, there’s a shortage of 80,0000 truck drivers right now. That’s an all-time high that the ATA says could grow to 160,000 by 2030.

But another national trucking organization based in the Kansas City suburb of Grain Valley, Missouri is countering that the number of drivers is not the problem.

It’s retaining the ones they have.

“They’re going out the back door as soon as they’re coming in the front door,” said Lewie Pugh, the Executive Vice-President for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “This industry has a terrible turnover rate. I spent 20-plus years in the industry as both a driver and owner-operator.”

Pugh’s OOIDA represents 150,000 people who have their own trucks or small fleets.

And the organization contends that there are plenty of commercial driver’s license operators.

“There’s 400,000-plus new CDL’s issued every year,” Pugh said. “There’s no shortage. We just need to keep ‘em. The same people that say they need 80,000 drivers also report they have a 94 percent turnover rate in our industry. They’re turning over 94 percent of our people year-round. And a driving school I’m familiar with had only five percent of its students still working in the industry after a year.”

That means that roughly nine out of every 10 drivers will no longer be working for the same company in a year.

The American Truckers Association, who did not get back to us after our interview request, did send us their list of factors in the driver shortage:

o High average age of current drivers, which leads to a high number of retirements;

o Women making up only 7% of all drivers, well below their representation in the total workforce;

o Inability of some would-be and current drivers to pass a drug test, a problem exacerbated by an

increasing number of states legalizing marijuana (a substance still banned federally);

o The federally mandated minimum age of 21 to drive commercially across state lines poses a

significant challenge to recruiting new drivers;

o The pandemic caused some drivers to leave the industry, plus truck driver training schools

trained far fewer drivers than normal in 2020;

o Lifestyle issues, notably time away from home, especially in the longer-haul market;

o Infrastructure and other issues, like a lack of truck parking spots, which causes drivers to stop

driving earlier than they need to so they can get a spot for the night, and congestion which limits

drivers’ ability to safely and efficiently make deliveries;

o Other barriers to entry like inability of potential candidates to meet carriers’ hiring standards for

driving record or criminal histories.

Many observers point to the 1980′s deregulation of the trucking industry as a turning point in bringing about frustration within the ranks.

“There’s just so many ways out there where you can get taken advantage of,” Pugh said. “Mainly the time. The long haul drivers get paid by the mile so if you’re sitting at a dock for eight hours it doesn’t cost the carrier anything at all. And they tell you about all this great pay. But what they don’t tell you is most long-haul truckers are on the road 220-plus days a year and it’s very expensive to live on the road. You also can’t write your per diem off on your taxes anymore. And many drivers work 70 hours a week. If you work 70 hours per week, 50 weeks a year and get paid $50,000 a year, that’s about $14.28 an hour. The McDonald’s across the street is hiring people at $15 an hour and you can go home and sleep in your bed every night. Why would you want to drive a truck?”

So what does it take for a company to retain drivers during a time when the entire workforce is having a hard time finding and retaining employees?

“You pay the people. You train the people. And you take care of the people,” Pugh replied. “When you don’t do those things you have people leave.”

Pugh also pointed out that retention of drivers is not the only medicine to cure the trucking industry’s supply chain illness.

“The supply chain and trucking is used so inefficiently that 40 percent of trucks aren’t even loaded to capacity every day,” he said. “Some aren’t loaded at all. They’re sitting around at shippers and receivers for hours and hours waiting to be loaded or unloaded. And by the time they are (finished) the truck driver’s out of time to drive so he’s another day behind.”

And the solution?

“We’ve got to make things in America,” Pugh answered. “If you put more truck drivers in the system the only thing you’re going to see at the Port of Los Angeles is longer lines. For the amount of trucks out there the capacity is there. They’re just not being used efficiently.”

Pugh also said the OOIDA is not supportive of efforts to lower the minimum age for commercial driver’s licenses from 21 to 18 due to safety concerns.

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