In a year marked by growing concerns over global supply chain disruptions, the U.S. trucking industry ranked the driver shortage as its top critical issue once again, for the fifth year in a row, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). Closely related, driver retention was ranked as the No. 2 industry issue, up four from its 2020 ranking.
Many factors are contributing to the pervasiveness of these issues, and one thing is certain: The industry as a whole must evolve to become more driver-centric. How? By increasing driver pay and benefits, offering access to better education and training programs, providing more career development opportunities and adopting driver-friendly technology.
Supply chain snarls will take time to untangle. So what’s in store for 2022? Creative problem-solving, with help from modern technology, will help stabilize operations and move the industry forward.
The trucking industry lost just 1% of drivers between late 2019 and late 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. At the same time, turnover for drivers in fleets with more than $30 million of annual revenue reached 92% — meaning roughly 9 out of every 10 drivers will no longer be working for that company.
There lies the bigger problem.
Trucking companies must make changes to how they treat and pay their drivers in 2022 and beyond. Commercial drivers continue to rank pay as a top industry concern. While companies increased pay tremendously during the pandemic, with bonuses and 25% or higher pay rate increases, truck driver salaries haven’t always kept pace with the times. In fact, today’s truck drivers earn 40% less than their counterparts did in the 1970s.
Driver retention is just as important as recruitment, if not more so, and keeping drivers means that trucking companies must prioritize improving their driver experiences. But improving drivers’ work lives requires more than just pay increases.
Recruitment and retention efforts must include technology, like fleet management and route optimization software. These aren’t “nice to haves” any longer but “must haves.” Why? Because the software increases operational efficiency and reduces driver stress by providing a seamless experience and necessary resources. Of course, drivers will need training on the software, too.
By prioritizing driver experiences and elevating their training and career education programs, fleets reap valuable benefits, including:
Other issues within the trucking industry to watch this year include facility and detention delays and driver parking. The supply chain issues at ports and warehouses aren’t helping, either. Congestion around cargo unloading and staging and the process of moving containers from port to their next destination are just two issues impacting drivers.
Many drivers aren’t used as efficiently as possible, with long haulers spending 6.5 hours a day driving despite regulations permitting 11 hours of driving per 24-hour period. Excess detention time prevents drivers from maintaining a steadier, more productive delivery schedule. Additionally, ports run using various appointment systems offering short notice for cargo and equipment pickup and delivery windows, which contributes to the backlog. Drivers sit in hours-long lines at ports not built to handle the current level of shipping volumes.
Truck drivers also spend too much time locating safe overnight parking. The more time these drivers spend waiting or searching for parking, the less time they have to cover miles of highway, making deliveries to customers and getting paid. The National Coalition on Truck Parking, an organization spearheaded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), found the most prevalent parking shortages exist along major freight corridors and large metropolitan areas. One solution to help drivers find safe, accessible parking spots includes implementing technology and driver apps that can alert drivers to available spots.
Additionally, the federal government has stepped in to help get freight moving again, relaxing regulations and supporting ports which have launched various pilot programs. Those programs include extended gate hours and 24/7 operations. Tools to help trucking companies and drivers manage and anticipate loads include predictive analysis and automation. Fleets and drivers that incorporate these solutions into their planning for 2022 will gain an advantage by preparing for possible delays and optimizing routes more effectively.
In 2022, fleets and trucking companies will continue to prioritize the adoption, implementation and use of fully automated software for informing real-time route optimization and supply chain planning. Trucking companies that capitalize on data-driven route optimization software will gain both efficiency and knowledge. We’ve already witnessed advances in automation, where software uses AI to incorporate historical and predictive analysis and offers fleet managers updated information on:
An important question remains, however: “How can fleets realistically keep pace with demand?” Automation and AI can answer that question — but the technology vital for fleet success requires other components to ensure its successful application. Driver buy-in is crucial for onboarding and technology deployments.
We’ll also see trucking companies start to expand their thinking to reach their drivers where they are at the moment. These companies need to utilize training and education, combined with events, reward-based initiatives or social media, to improve overall technology adoption and use.
As fleets incorporate more software technology into their workflow processes — and with everyone, from drivers and dispatch to managers and executives, on board — they’ll reap benefits like:
While many trucking companies haven’t moved digital transformation to the top of their list of priorities yet, the most successful ones have taken this step. We know the industry’s future success hinges on implementing technology designed to make drivers’ work lives easier — and teaching them how to use it.
No one will dispute that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. supply chain has struggled. Organizations have been forced to pivot with little warning and do more with a lot less. To stay competitive, productive and profitable, fleets and trucking companies must future-proof themselves. The best way to achieve this goal is by incorporating technology with machine learning and automation capabilities.
AI-powered solutions and a determined focus on improving the driver experience will help companies attract and retain drivers in 2022 and beyond — an approach that should help resolve some of today’s challenging supply chain issues.
Avi Geller is founder and CEO of Maven Machines.
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