The driver shortage, and what to do about it, is once again rising to the forefront of fleet executive concerns. The American Transportation Research Institute’s latest release of its Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report shows that fleet executives rank the driver shortage as their third most pressing concern. That’s up from the no. 5 slot the previous year.
The shortage is not necessarily tied to the resource challenges imposed on many industries during an economic upturn. Our current upturn is fairly slow compared to previous economic recoveries. Hiring challenges are being exacerbated by baby boomer requirements, lack of interest in the industry by the younger generations and possibly the impact of CSA implementation.
Can we do a better job of solving the driver shortage this time around? Listening over the past few months to carrier executives discuss how best to deal with the shortage, I’m not feeling confident the shortage is going to be solved.
In his book the 33 Strategies of War, best-selling author Robert Greene argues that what limits people and corporations in meeting new challenges is the inability to confront reality, to see things for what they really are. “As we grow older, we become more rooted in the past. Habit takes over…Repetition replaces productivity.”
I fear the industry is marching in the same direction. For example, at the recent Ontario Trucking Association annual conference I was surprised to hear Steve Russell, chairman and CEO of Celadon Trucking Services Inc., actually question if people preferred to collect Unemployment Insurance rather than return to work as drivers. Surely we can do better in addressing the driver shortage than blaming our woes on unemployment insurance.
Same goes for ongoing industry hopes to address the driver shortage by recruiting qualified drivers from overseas. As James Menzies, executive editor from our sister publication Truck News, reported last month many carriers insist they can’t find qualified Canadian drivers willing to accept the pay and lifestyle afforded by a career as a long-distance driver. Bringing experienced drivers from countries in Europe and the Middle East would fill that need, according to proponents. That can only be part of the solution. In North America it’s estimated we could need up to 400,000 drivers. How much of a dent can we expect immigration to play?
A better approach is to finally address the competitiveness of driver pay and benefits relative to other professions. But it can’t stop there. Assuming it’s just an issue of more money may simply leave us with higher-paid drivers who still hop from job to job during the good times and continue to exit the industry in utter frustration during the bad times.
First we must get a closer read on how many drivers will be needed over the next few years. Then we must directly address why the industry is failing to attract new drivers.
We need to do a much better job of both raising awareness about the industry among the potential driver pool and addressing the issues that reduce the industry’s attractiveness. I see a strong Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council playing a central role in both endeavours and hope the industry rallies around the CTHRC now that Ottawa is pulling back on its funding for the council.
I also like ATRI’s suggestion that the industry develop programs that advance work/life balance, healthy lifestyles and family relationships. As carrier respondents to the ATRI report pointed out, drivers, particularly those in over-the-road applications, could benefit from resources to maintain family connections, protect their health and reduce stress while on the road.
The industry must also adopt more sophisticated recruitment practices. The most common hiring mistake is finding drivers who have the right skills but the wrong personality for the job on the hope that attitude can be changed by coaching, incentives, rewards, etc., according to the folks at Caliper Research. The firm conducts personality assessments and has done more than 3.5 million of them. Caliper has researched the personalities of local, regional and long-haul drivers and found some significant differences. Caliper believes that people are actually hard to change; their personalities are already hard set before they come in for the interview. In their own words, job techniques can be taught: drive and motivation can’t.
It does make for new ways of thinking but as Greene argues, if you want to deal with new challenges you must cut yourself loose from the past and open your eyes to the present.
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