In our last installment, we proposed developments in the trucking industry that have created a seemingly insurmountable problem of qualified driver shortage. It could be something like over-arching government regulation. It could also be something like floundering salaries. It could be something even more complex. In this installment, we examine some possible solutions.
What Are Transportation Industry Leaders Doing About the Shortage?
Unfortunately, they’re taking more freight off of trucker’s hands and shipping more by rail. Rail companies are certainly ready to oblige. As a result, transportation industry analysts are predicting significant growth for rail and intermodal traffic over the next few years. But qualified drivers are still needed at both ends of a long-distance rail or intermodal movement.
On the other hand, they’re finally agreeing to pay more. This was one of the late Don Schneider’s focal points, and many carriers are nudging rates up, penny by penny, nickel by nickel, in order to raise wages. Arranging for more, and more regular, off-the-road time. Some companies have been more aggressive in pursuing this than others, and there are inevitable costs involved. Most of them qualify the move as looking at the long-term health of the industry, rather than just quarterly profits.
The Dilemma of Building a New Industry Image
Veteran truckers know the score and are quite vocal about the results. CDL License Mills are killing the industry. So-called Career Colleges have built a cottage industry around pushing through new students, awarding a commercial license based on gutted curriculum and releasing these Class 8 drivers onto our nation’s highways with a handshake and a prayer. Carriers can hire them for cheaper wages and simply rely on their insurance policies to create a buffer between them and financial disaster, should the scenario turn damaging. The honest, long-term solution to this is developing conscious programs to treat drivers with respect, openness, and trust only after they’ve truly proven themselves as skilled drivers who understand the demands of the industry.
On the other hand, Carriers need to begin partnering with respected driving schools to establish relationships with prospective drivers before they finish, and to be a preferred destination for the schools to steer graduates. A few companies are trying this. Fortunately some honorable workforce development agencies in logistics hotspots are integrating with driving schools to begin to address the problem on a regional basis.
Building a Roster From Capable Pools of Technically Proficient Workers
Some carriers have already realized that they can create a win-win-win solution by hiring military veterans with appropriate driving experience, and recognizing their military experience as part of their total experience rather than taking them on as rookies. There is interest in doing this in a few locales, but it will take collaboration and alignment among a number of agencies, including carriers, veterans’ affairs bureaus, the federal government, and insurers.
Permitting more extensive driving duties at younger ages (say, 19 versus 21) to capture more people at the beginning of their careers rather than trying to “convert” them later on. This again requires collaboration with carriers and insurers, as well as careful monitoring of individual progress.
Other Issues Fueling Driver Retention
Extreme competition. To be fair, competitiveness among carriers for experienced drivers fuels higher driver salaries…to a point. Yet the long-term effects can hamper advancement for drivers who hope for more but can be undercut. Too many of the company-focused initiatives are designed more to steal drivers from the competition than to enlarge the total driver pool. The long-term health of the transportation industry hinges upon this. The big things, engaging returning veterans and having younger drivers, definitely need coordination”and action rather than endless study”at a national level. It’s a national problem; it will take a national solution.
So long-term plans for expanding qualified driver pools demands a comprehensive strategy and the committed engagement of industry and governmental players. And it shouldn’t be delayed for years while environmental impact studies are conducted in Washington D.C.
As always, we at CDL Life want to know what professional drivers think. We also wish that industry groups would do more to boost the image and well-being of professional truck drivers. Their physical and psychological health depend on so much more than just another federal or state bill or private company initiative to truly last. We encourage all truck drivers to be vocal about what they wish for, naming who they think can help them accomplish this agenda, and to stay informed about developments within the trucking and transportation industry. Why? Because Truckers Rule!