According to the mainstream narrative, automation may be the answer to everything from the driver shortage to how we’ll attract younger people into an industry with an aging workforce.
From Elon Musk predicting that semi-autonomous vehicles will roam the streets in the near future, to government officials claiming the end of the driver occupation, new technologies in trucking are the talk of the town. Goldman Sacks has predicted the loss of 300,000 jobs per year in driving industries (WIRED, 2017) and The Guardian has even stated that “Innovators like Elon Musk […] are poised to remove the last humans left in the modern supply chain” (2017).
Apparently, some people foresee a bleak future for the human side of trucking.
While appealing, these new technologies have yet to deliver a real impact in the short to medium term on recruitment and retention. In the long term, these technologies will lead to a change in the skill sets needed from truck drivers and impose a need for new and emerging occupations within the industry. They may also lead more young workers, who have been pegged to be more tech-savvy than previous generations, into trucking, albeit not necessarily in traditional occupations.
Here are some points to consider, from an HR perspective, to prepare your company should you plan to move ahead with these types of technological changes:
Training and professional development are essential
New technologies may seem appealing from a productivity perspective but they can instill fear among employees that their job with the company will become obsolete. In fact, according to the ADP Research Institute, “43% of employees believe that ‘automation will replace employees for repetitive work,’ immediately, while 51% believe this trend is likely to impact the future”.
In that context, managing employees through a technological change requires a two-pronged approach: communication and training. You have to communicate that their position is not in jeopardy and explain the steps you will be taking to implement these technologies. In that process, a best practice is to assess the skills of your employees and then provide the training and professional development necessary for them to be successful and meet your company’s needs in the future.
Outside of the box: recruiting for highly coveted skill sets
Another aspect to consider is the technical requirements that these new technologies bring with them. For example, you will need technicians/mechanics on staff who are trained to diagnose and maintain more technologically advanced equipment, and IT professionals who can support your staff in maintaining and updating new software and tools.
These occupations are emerging within the trucking industry, but are already highly coveted in other sectors, which makes qualified individuals even harder to recruit and retain. When seeking to recruit for an IT position, for example, you may be competing with the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple.
To facilitate your recruitment process, review your compensation structure and the specific skill set you need. Be ready to explain how those skills will be applied in the context of a trucking company (seeing as some potential candidates may not even be aware of the industry) and the benefits of working for you (e.g. flexibility, type of workplace culture, etc.).
HR basics: the driver shortage is still here
It may be tempting to assume that new technologies will solve the industry’s labour shortages, but HR professionals in the industry shouldn’t lose sight of the current driver shortage.
As Genevieve Gagnon from XTL Transport mentioned at the 2018 Women with Drive Summit, fleets need to keep an eye out for innovative ways to recruit and retain qualified talent. Those who don’t may find themselves in a bind, between needing to increase their rates and shippers putting pressure to adopt new technologies to lower the costs. However,
implementing new technologies takes time, and their sustainability isn’t quite there yet. The industry will need qualified drivers behind the wheel, competent dispatchers, skilled technicians/mechanics, etc. for the foreseeable future.
So, adjust your “people plan” accordingly, review your recruitment and retention strategies frequently, and communicate them clearly and consistently to your current and potential employees. There’s no better ambassador for your company than employees who see themselves being part of your family for the long haul.
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