As we ring in a new year, it’s time to look ahead to 2015 and the positive and negative challenges we will be facing as an industry. While many of these are beyond our control (oil prices!), there are some that beg for change in both attitude and current practices.
Let’s look at some top issues for 2015 and how we can end the year in a better position for 2016.
The capacity crunch is a reality. Professional drivers aren’t as easy to find as they were in the distant past. What can this industry do to ease the pain? First, expand the driver pool by looking outside current demographics. Of course we need to recruit more women, but what about finding ways for immigrants to become professional drivers? Maybe this means accepting other language-speaking workers such as Spanish or French, to possibly even include sign language. (Just an idea!)
Should we consider older workers and make the job less physically demanding and more about driving than loading, cranking, thumping, chaining, or other activities that might create a physically limiting position? While we’re on the subject of age, what about those ages 18 to 21 who are looking for work?
We usually think of a career as a professional driver being one that often separates a driver from his or her family for extended periods of time. Maybe we need to rethink that as well. Are there more ways to keep drivers closer to home? Maybe more of a Pony Express type operation would spread the distance between two or more drivers who could be home nightly.
What about job sharing? Could a summer worker (golf courses, water parks, boat rentals) be cross-trained to drive only during the winter months? Would carriers allow part time drivers? What about all those school bus drivers who have summers off?
Our attitudes have been a limiting factor for entry-level drivers as well. As a society, we often devalue careers in the trades. Many of us want our children to go to college instead of technical school. When will we finally understand that welders, electricians, plumbers, and skilled tradespeople have jobs that can’t be easily outsourced? This holds true for professional drivers (who ARE skilled workers!). You can’t operate a truck from overseas (at least not yet).
When will we start teaching our teenagers the value of blue-collar jobs that might not mean a desk job, but it will probably involve computers in some capacity? Just look at the newer trucks and check out the technology! Maybe we should consider the European model of education that directs teens into technical or academic careers before high school. Training is based on aptitude and skill and is better suited to the intended career outcome.
Moving to equipment challenges, truck cab designs will become more driver-focused and ergonomically adaptable. As more women enter the industry, the equipment will need to better accommodate a broader range of sizes. Adaptability will be important, especially for husband-wife teams. However, creating a tractor-trailer that is safer, more economical and more comfortable is the goal. Steps, seats, steering wheels, seat belts, and other parts of the cab will allow a wider range of body sizes so no one is prohibited from driving a truck due to his or her size.
One very positive effect of the capacity issue is the attention shippers are giving carriers in order to get their products delivered. Trucking companies are starting to rate their customers on dock time and driver friendliness and the “bad” ones are suffering from either higher rates or fewer carrier options. When shippers and receivers start valuing a driver’s time and respecting them as individuals, we all benefit. Watch for more positive interactions at the loading dock in the future.
Perhaps the non-trucking public will finally begin to understand the importance of that eighteen-wheeler on the road beside them. Instead of pointing at trucks as smoke spewing, pavement-wrecking behemoths operated by overtired and over stimulated drivers, maybe they will start to understand how that gallon of milk actually gets to the store shelves.
Once the drivers, carriers, and the entire industry gain the respect of those outside of the industry (including regulators), many of our driver capacity issues will lessen. These changes won’t all occur in the coming year, but we can move toward addressing these challenges in 2015 and end the year better positioned for 2016.