Over the past weeks I had the opportunity to speak with some of North America’s leading truckers. Other than the “head shots” in this year’s National Hockey League playoffs, the other number one topic of discussion on everyone’s mind is the issue of driver shortages. I also had an opportunity to read what the Canadian Trucking Alliance labels “a new, eye-opening report” from the Blue Ribbon Task Force they established in 2011 to address the impending shortage of qualified commercial drivers in Canada.
In this blog, I would like share a few thoughts on this hot topic.
The problem is realThere are some shippers who believe that this issue is manufactured by the trucking industry to help sell freight rate increases. Let me assure my shipper friends that this is not correct. Trucking companies all over North America are having difficulty attracting “qualified drivers.” By this term we mean skilled professional drivers or people interested in becoming professionals.
This shortage is being created by an aging workforce, lifestyle issues (e.g. having to spend time away from home), a lack of interest from women, the challenges of the work, the level and structure of the compensation and the fact that driving truck is not viewed as a profession. The fact is that while there are millions of Americans and Canadians out of work, driving truck is not considered an option for most people.
There is no “quick fix”This problem is going to be with us for a while. It is going to begin having a significant impact on truckers that don’t craft a well thought out driver recruitment strategy. They are going to begin losing business to those companies that have drivers.
It is also going to begin having a more significant impact on shippers. Some companies are going to have problems moving their freight. They are going to have trouble finding carriers with capacity. They are going to have to switch from truckload to LTL or begin paying more. Get used to it and begin expanding your carrier base to minimize the impact of the problem.
What will it take to solve the problem?Take responsibility for solving the problem
The Task Force prides itself on the fact that truckers are taking ownership of the problem. According to the report, “industry leaders need to make a strong statement demonstrating to current and future drivers that we are serious about coming to grips with the issues that underpin the driver shortage.” The CTA report sends a loud message that the leading trucking organization in Canada has a sincere concern and is seeking solutions to the problem.
Create a Recruiting StrategyThis responsibility falls on governments and trucking companies to solve. Governments need to develop immigration policies to encourage skilled drivers or those individuals seeking a driving career to come to North America. The CTHRC and other governmental bodies are working on this. Trucking companies also need to craft strategies to secure the type and number of drivers best suited to the needs of their organization. This varies from company to company.
Address the Lifestyle IssueTruckers need to look at making the profession more attractive. This includes looking at how to create more turns and relays so drivers can be home at night and have better quality of life. Increasing the use of intermodal service for long haul movements also has to be part of the solution. Dispatcher training is critical to ensure drivers are treated with dignity and respect.
Make Truck Driving a recognized ProfessionThis will take collaboration between government, carriers and shippers. There needs to be a universally recognized truck driver certification program. The program will need to address safe driving skills, interpersonal skills, making effective use of computers and communications, diet, exercise, personal and lifestyle management. This will create a pool of professionally trained safe drivers. Trucking companies need to invest in these programs and shippers will need to seek out companies that employ professionally trained and certified drivers.
Start Building Capacity nowAlmost every trucker is singing the same song these days. We will replace our fleet but not make any additions for growth until there is a demonstrated upswing in the economy. This is a direct result of the impact of the Great Recession that caused many truckers to park equipment.
The CTA report concedes there is merit – at least in the short-term — in the argument that a driver shortage is good for the industry in that it creates tightness in capacity which in turn places upward pressure on freight rates. Obviously the “industry” referenced in the quote is the trucking industry and not shippers or the economy.
The market is going to take care of this problem in the years ahead. As the economy improves, there will be increased demand for trucking services. Shippers will gravitate to carriers that invest in their fleet and drivers. Carriers that are trying to harvest their current fleet and not make the necessary investments will lose customers and be left behind. This is what will drive carriers to move from their current yield optimization strategies. More carriers need to begin planning their growth strategy now for both equipment and drivers.
Make CSA a North American Program While some argue that the CSA program in the United States (that applies to drivers who cross the U.S. border as well) is a cause of the driver shortage, the fact is that this program, that is in the process of being refined, elevates the quality of the profession and weeds out substandard trucking companies that do not put a proper priority on safety. Long term, this is a good program for the trucking industry. The CSA program needs to become a North American program and needs to be refined over time to maximize its effectiveness.
Create Best Practice Driver Compensation ProgramsDuring my discussions with truckers this past week, I heard a number of proposals on how to improve driver compensation. These range from paying drivers an hourly wage rather than rate per mile to tying incentive pay to the achievement of various metrics (e.g. stops per hour, safety record, etc.). Improving compensation is clearly part of the solution.
Shipper support for Carriers employing Professional DriversTruckers must focus on making their operations as productive as possible. This includes using the most advanced TMS systems linked to the most cost effective tractor and trailer tracking. In other words, truckers have a responsibility to run the most efficient operations possible. Shippers don’t have to pay for the inefficiencies of their carriers.
People who are potential truck drivers have career options. They can go into construction or a host of other jobs. Driver compensation will have to keep pace with remuneration in other professions.
Freight rate increases should go to those carriers that are the most efficient and can demonstrate how these increases are tied to investments in making their operation even more efficient.
Shippers must be part of the solution to the driver shortage problem. There is a cost associated with recruiting, training and compensating professional drivers. Shippers will likely continue to have the choice between using lower quality carriers that have inefficient systems and don’t train and pay their drivers well to companies that use carriers that provide a high quality service, utilize the best technology and the most skilled drivers. The latter will likely come at a premium.
SummaryCarriers need to plan now to ensure they have the fleet capacity, drivers and technology to run a productive and efficient operation. Otherwise, they risk being left behind. Shippers need to understand that the driver shortage problem is real and that they are part of the solution. Part of the solution is selecting carriers that invest in technology, equipment and professional drivers.
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