As trucker strikes spread from Canada to the U.S. earlier this year, a bigger picture was often overlooked.
What’s the root cause of the nation’s truck driver shortage? If we look purely at the numbers, there isn’t really a driver shortage at all. An article in Time compares the number of people holding commercial driver’s licenses with the number of open truck-driving positions. In California alone, the Department of Motor Vehicles states that 640,445 hold active Class A and Class B commercial driver’s licenses. But there are only 140,000 “truck transportation” jobs in the state, according to the state Employment Development Department.
So why aren’t eligible drivers lining up to be employed? It’s not that we don’t have enough drivers; the real issue is with driver retention. To address this issue, the supply chain industry needs to reevaluate driver work conditions. There are opportunities to make trucking a more attractive career choice by improving driver pay, working hours and accommodations.
There’s no question that being a truck driver today isn’t as great a job as it used to be. Between inequities in driver pay and tough working conditions, truck driving lacks the appeal needed to draw in new talent and retain those already in the workforce.
This became especially true during the pandemic. Truck drivers were crucial to maintaining the “new normal” and ensuring that the supply chain kept up with consumer demands. Their dedication and selflessness to continue business as usual, including dealing with unforeseen challenges such as shut-down truck stops, inability to find food or tend to basic necessities, kept our communities calm as they struggled to deliver essential goods. But while truck drivers were working long hours and covering thousands of miles to keep shelves stocked and packages delivered on time, driver conditions were an afterthought.
Read more: Will Truckers’ Protests Be the Thing That Finally Breaks Supply Chains?
From low pay to lack of adequate parking, drivers aren’t only forced to deal with the stresses of the job. They must also manage the stress of maintaining health and well-being without the support of the industry and government entities alike. In any other industry, not being able to have access to restrooms at your place of work, or easy access to food, would be unacceptable.
Rather than address the need to attract and retain drivers, companies today are looking to alternatives for meeting consumer demand such as overnight shipping and same-day delivery. In an attempt to solve supply chain issues and driver shortage, the U.S. has recently lowered the commercial driving age to 18. In the private sector, companies are looking to invest in autonomous vehicles and the job skills required to make automated fleets a reality. While these sound like viable solutions in theory, we’re still missing a critical opportunity to make transportation an ideal career.
Becoming More Driver-Centric
Shippers and suppliers have the delicate role of managing the expectations of customers while maintaining a sustainable supply chain. Because of this, shippers and the logistics providers with whom they partner have the opportunity to become the change the industry so desperately needs, starting with an effort to improve the experience of drivers once they arrive at a warehouse or drop-off destination. One solution is to provide a waiting room or designated area for drivers once they arrive at a facility. After an eight to 10-hour haul, this wait time is often the only opportunity the driver has to take a restroom or food break. Shippers and providers can make improvements that provide a welcoming atmosphere to drivers.
More importantly, shippers and suppliers need to think beyond improving the facility experience during pickups and drop-offs. They need to address the entire carrier experience, from striving for longer lead times during the planning process to contracting (and honoring) fair rates with trusted carriers, optimizing routes to better utilize trailer space, and providing flexible delivery requirements. With more intentional planning, shippers and providers can effectively minimize the dwell time that causes slower transit times and contribute to driver stress.
One possible solution is the use of shared truckload for shipments that can't fill a trailer. STL can help shippers reduce the risk of damage and carbon emissions, while maximizing a carrier's earnings potential, reducing out-of-route mileage, and eliminating additional stops at terminals and consolidation points. Such improvements can boost the driver experience by cutting down on time spent at loading docks, and giving drivers more time back on the road. By electing to use STL platforms, shippers and providers not only can gain access to competitive shipping rates, but can also decrease dwell times, increase trailer utilization and boost driver pay.
How States and Governments Can Help
Parking capacity is among the leading concerns that truck drivers face in their day-to-day work. From issues with highway safety to finding adequate places to rest, the lack of parking makes it difficult for drivers to safely take time to rest and recover. Earlier this year, the American Trucking Associations called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to invest in national truck parking capacity. This monumental change would not only improve the hassles of truck driving, but also provide safer conditions that allow drivers to rest and keep their trucks off the shoulders of highways.
Other improvements that local and state governments could make include better road signage. For over-the-road truck drivers, signs that are unclear or poorly lit make it difficult for them to navigate in unfamiliar areas. Signage can also prevent drivers from making wrong turns or mistakes, especially for double haulers.
Only recently have we seen technology companies take on the challenge of improving driver conditions. From optimizing routes to helping drivers find safe locations to rest, there are many opportunities for technology to improve driver satisfaction and, in turn, make truck driving a career that people want to have. One company doing this already is Trucker Path, which aims to help truck drivers find rest stops, weigh stations and other helpful information when navigating the road. Platforms like this can provide instant and exclusive access to shared truckloads, one of the most profitable freight modes in the industry, as well as factor in driver and dispatcher preferences for matching drivers with the right shipper or logistics provider. As a result, these efficiencies lead to more drive time and lighter loads that cause less wear and tear to equipment. Most importantly, they optimize the payout time for drivers so they get paid sooner.
Where do we go from here? To help attract and retain talent in the transportation industry, we need to turn our focus back to drivers. Much like tech companies radically changing their cultures to provide flexible benefits and workplace options, the trucking industry needs to take a similar approach. Shippers, logistics providers, local governments and tech companies alike should be asking: What can we do to improve driver conditions? Imagine what we could achieve if we start building new solutions with truck drivers top of mind.
Kevin McMaster is vice president of sales and operations at Flock Freight.
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