For those of you familiar with the transportation and logistics industry, you are well aware of the driver shortage “crisis” that has been a popular and urgent topic for many years running.
If you are not familiar with this challenge just look at the back of almost any transport truck trailer on the road and you will see some form of a “help wanted” ad – looking for drivers. At first glance, the concern is obvious as the stats are pretty alarming.
The American Trucking Association reports that the current (2015) driver shortage sits around 48,000. This number is expected to rise to about 175,000 within the next decade. That’s a lot of avocados and iPhones not getting to store shelves or delivered to your door for that matter. The economic impact of a 175,000 driver shortage would be felt up and down the supply chain from procurement to consumption – everyone would be hit. The prices of goods would have to rise in order to mitigate the supply and demand imbalance. I am no economist but this seems like a real problem with a legitimate threat to our wallets.
During research for this article, I came across many valid and creative solutions to the driver shortage from paying drivers a higher wage, cleaning up the image of the industry and/or recruiting from certain targeted groups such as Aboriginals or veterans. Although the proposed solutions seem kind of logical (especially the pay issue, drivers are paid on average $41,000 a year, which is less than they made 20 years ago), they are also extremely daunting. As an example consider the challenge of changing the image of the industry: What would have to happen? Where would you even start? And how on earth would you do it at scale? In order to pay the drivers more, you would have to get more money for the freight. This seems highly unlikely based on the way many companies continue to use rate slashing as their primary business acquisition strategy. These examples and others become even more daunting when the people and groups who are advocating for change can’t seem to agree on what the best solution is let alone a first step.
With all this being said, what if the driver shortage is not actually a driver shortage? Could this ‘driver shortage’ simply be an inefficiency problem? How many wasted and empty miles do US trucks travel every year? (Hint: it’s in the billions.)Could the adoption and acceptance of certain technologies not only solve the capacity constraint a.k.a. driver shortage but also lead to better pay, stable freight costs and a better industry image? Could this human created problem best be solved by software and artificial intelligence?
Imagine for a moment we diverted our efforts and resources from getting kids on the reserve into trucks and put those same resources towards working with policy makers to move the needle on getting semi-autonomous trucks on the road as soon as possible? Would this not give the driver more money as he or she can now travel more miles, faster and safer? Does an autonomous truck not give the industry an improved image? One that embraces safety, carbon emission mitigation and technology? These sound like values that the largest generational cohort of people in the US with a 13% unemployment rate (hint: the Millennials) are aligned with. What if trucking companies invested in internal technologies instead of driver recruitment programs to help them automate internal processes and easily collaborate with other companies to maximize capacity and mileage? Doesn’t a company need fewer drivers to move the same or more freight when sharing capacity? Would this not have a profound effect on the bottom line too? What if trucking companies could use technologies to automate sales and marketing processes therefore not have to rely on brokers as their maverick sales and marketing team? This would give trucking companies better control of the message and freight (image) and the price of the load (more money for drivers and company).
The fact is many new technology startups that help trucking companies doing all of the above are popping up every month from order automation software by RoseRocket, platooning technologies from Peloton Tech or mobile based fleet management apps from Fleetrover.
If the transportation community has an appetite for change then the driver shortage conversation will move into a sustainable, solution-oriented direction that starts and ends with technology. If the driver shortage issue is nothing more than a topic for roundtables, white papers and industry reports where an action plan is beside the point then what we see now is more of what we will get.
As Einstein famously said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.” Are we making the path to a solution unnecessarily complicated when the tools and technology are positioned to solve the ‘driver shortage’ today?
If you are one of the solution-oriented forward thinkers in transportation click here and join the movement.
Justin Bailie is the co founder and president of a Silicon Valley based startup RoseRocket, a modern TMS for LTL carriers. Consistently recognized as a top industry influencer, Bailie has been quoted and/or contributed to over 30 national and international publications including INC magazine, Huffington Post and the Globe and Mail. Bailie is recognized as a subject matter expert in the logistics industry and consults with businesses on business modernization and systems, marketing to the millennial economy and sales 2.0. He is also a published author, keynote speaker, and father of three. All posts by Justin Bailie