Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises of Omaha, Nebraska.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Looming behind the confusion and disruption attending the implementation of the Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) requirement for truck drivers last December remains the more fundamental problem experienced by motor carriers in attracting and keeping qualified drivers, said Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises of Omaha, Nebraska. Leathers, addressing members of the National Grain and Feed Association during their annual meeting in Scottsdale on March 18, said tightness in truck availability will continue and even worsen if that fundamental issue isn’t addressed.

Leathers acknowledged the troubled rollout of the new ELD regulation but said the industry would adjust. He pointed out his company has employed ELD technology for about 20 years, so compliance with the new mandate wasn’t an issue.

Leathers said the economy and its demands on transport were rising even as truck industry capacity was declining. He pointed out the average age of a truck driver is 60 years. Driver turnover was significant, with retirements of the older drivers a major factor. The combination of difficulties encountered in encouraging young people to view a career as a truck driver favorably and the attrition rate has resulted in the tightest driver market in history, he said.

It was important to offer new drivers a good salary, but this by itself has proven to be ineffective in recruiting and retaining quality drivers, Leathers said. As important was offering prospective drivers a work environment that allowed time with families, which is important to young workers establishing home lives.

More broadly, it was important to encourage young people to understand there is no one path – that of a college degree – to success, Leathers said. The value of trades should be reaffirmed. Youth must know they can have great and rewarding careers and lives by pursuing a trade, such as truck driving. It was incumbent on the industry and society to make that case, he said.