Posted on April 15, 2014 at 4:22 p.m.
| Updated on April 15, 2014 at 4:39 p.m.
If it seems there are more recreational vehicles than usual sitting around the Elkhart area, it's because there are.
The companies that RV makers pay to transport finished RVs to dealerships around the country are having an increasingly difficult time finding drivers, their representatives said Tuesday, April 15, at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 finished units are awaiting delivery, and RV transport firms need to hire about 2,000 new drivers to eliminate the driver shortage, said Dianne Farrell, vice president of government affairs with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
"It's costing us all a lot of money," Farrell said of the shortage.
The industry trade group invited RV transport firms to the Hall and told them about two initiatives aimed at easing the shortage. The RVIA has partnered with a job search website called www.findtherightjob.com and is encouraging transport firms to post help wanted ads on the site. And the group has begun lobbying federal regulators to reduce the Commercial Drivers License requirements for drivers who haul some types of RVs.
The Employment Network, the company that runs the website, does not charge employers an upfront fee for placing an ad. Instead, the company uses criteria selected by the employer to identify applicants who meet the criteria, and charges the employer $35 per person who applies. The model saves the employer time and money because the Employment Network's call center employees already have called the job seeker and screened out those who don't meet the employer's criteria, Farrell said.
Doug Gaeddert, chairman of the RVIA and a general manager at Forest River Inc., said the RVIA will help publicize the job site nationally to draw recruits from across the nation as Elkhart's labor pool continues to tighten.
"The problem is there's not enough exposure (nationally) for these job opportunities," Gaeddert said.
Dave Wilson, director of safety and compliance for Goshen-based Quality Drive Away and Foremost Transport, said his company has tried services similar to The Employment Network and had little success, but he will probably try it out because it has the backing and exposure of the RVIA.
"Right now I need 200 trucks," Wilson said. "I've been trying to get 200 trucks since last July. I'm not even close to it because there's not enough people coming into the industry. We're five to six weeks behind. In another month we'll be eight weeks behind."
Wilson, like his competitors, said driver turnover is a big problem. Drivers need their own 1-ton pickup trucks, which can retail for $45,000 to $65,000, and often aren't paid enough to replace their trucks after they've worn them out in a few years. This reality drives most drivers from the industry within 18 to 24 months.
Years ago, the industry relied on part-time, often retired individuals for transport drivers, but today more retirees want to live the RV lifestyle themselves, Wilson said.
"People are coming into the industry wanting to do it as a full-time job, and we in the industry have to figure out how to bring these people in, and work them effectively so they can make enough money to replace their vehicle."
Does that mean RV makers need to pay higher transport rates, which would allow transport firms to pay drivers more?
"That's a very difficult thing for me to answer," Wilson said. "I have to be very political in that answer. (RV makers) have to do what they have to do to make money, just like what we have to do. We have to come together to make a viable solution for the guy that delivers the product to make it economically feasible for him to do that."
Wilson noted that RV transport firms are competing with the trucking industry for drivers, who can keep their trailers fully loaded round trip. RV transport firms only pay one-way if they can't find the driver an RV to transport back home, called "back hauls." Wilson said he has a full-time staff who works on this, but are happy if they're able to succeed 10 percent of the time.
Former Elkhart mayor Dave Miller, now president of CWRV Transport, which moves RVs exclusively for Camping World, the nation's largest RV dealer, said dealers could help alleviate the shortage simply by treating drivers better. Many require the driver to wash the RV after arriving with it, make them wait several hours while they inspect it for problems, and are not flexible enough on when they will take delivery, Miller said.
If a driver is delayed because of a traffic accident on the interstate, he might be forced to keep the RV an extra night, or even over a weekend, because he arrived at the dealership too late.
As a result, some drivers refuse to transport to certain dealers.
"Be aware that the driver has a schedule to keep," she said. "Treat them like basic human beings, make them feel welcome and appreciated."