Opinions mixed

REGINA, Sask. – A Future of Trucking panel said ever-changing technology and a candidate pool of younger workers poses challenges and benefits to an industry facing ongoing recruitment and retainment concerns.

Heather Day, owner of C.S. Day Transport, said when it comes to attracting Millennials to the trucking industry, new technologies are only a small part of why many choose to enter alternative sectors.

“I don’t think that autonomous trucks are going to help very much at all,” Day said of enticing the next generation into the industry. “If it’s truly driverless where they just sit and put on the autopilot, no one is going to want to do that.”

Day did say, however, that the move toward autonomous has a bright side.

“If autonomous vehicles grow more into the advanced driver assist systems, and if they are marketed as more glamorous like airline pilots where you’ve got all these fancy controls and step into this nice, comfortable cab, that could be more promising,” she said.

Cass Pidmen, a driver with C.S. Day Transport, said technology brings with it a sense of uncertainty as to whether a program will be able to operate a tractor-trailer the same way an experienced driver can, particularly in adverse weather conditions, and even though there are exciting new advancements that save drivers time, attracting new employees remains a challenge.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty of truck driving,” Pidmen said. “You may know when you’re going to start, but you don’t know when you’re going to end.

“Generally speaking, you have to work but you don’t want it to be your whole life, so you have your life and you fit your work into that and make as much money as you can during that time and you definitely want to enjoy your work.”

Pidmen said when it comes to his peers, the notion of working in the trucking industry is mostly off their radar.

“When they think of driving, they typically think I’m crazy for doing it, especially in Saskatchewan with our winter conditions,” he said. “They just think cold, bad roads, no thanks.”

For Mackenzie Lapchuk, on the other hand, who is an apprentice technician with Cervus Equipment Peterbilt, trucking is a viable career choice for many he knows.

“Career opportunities in the trucking industry, myself and my peers see an endless choice of opportunities,” said Lapchuk, who said many of the employees he works with are in their twenties.

But how Lapchuk’s peers approach the industry differs, chronicling how two of his friends are ready to purchase their own trucks, one planning to get a brand new 2018 with all the bells and whistles, while the other preferring to opt for a 2000 Kenworth model.

“He wants nothing to do with technologies, aftertreatment, or anything like that,” said Lapchuk. “He goes ‘No way. My dad drives an older truck, my brother drives an older truck, I’m going to drive an older truck and that’s all there is to it.’”

As for what he and his peers look for in an employer, Lapchuk said a decent wage, an enjoyable workplace, benefits, and a culture that puts as much effort into him as he does them is what would be looking for.

Flexibility – or a work-life balance – was also top of the list for many younger workers, according to Brenda Cuthbert, HR manager for Siemens Transportation.

Cuthbert said independence, a meaningful position with the company, and mentor and not a boss, respect, and appreciation were also important to Millennial candidates.

“So honestly, don’t we all want that?” Cuthbert said. “I’m not sure there is much difference between Baby Boomers and Millennials. I think one generation brought experience to the workforce and the other generation is bringing technology.”

Asked about whether an increase in pay would alleviate the perceived driver shortage in the coming years, Cuthbert did not buy into the claim.

“You have to be competitive, there’s no question there, but improving the driver’s lifestyle is what is key here,” she said. “Increasing salaries doesn’t give you job satisfaction. It may get the drivers or employees in your front door, but it will not keep those employees.”

Part of that improved lifestyle, said Cuthbert, is a company’s efforts to mimic a long-haul driver’s home life as much as possible.

“Drivers want the comfort to follow them on the road,” she said, “so as companies we need to find a way to give them the home experience when they are away.”

The Future of Trucking panel, which was the third installment of Newcom Business Media’s discussion on both the new generation of workers and the impact of new technologies, took place in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA) annual AGM and Awards Gala in Regina Oct. 21.

Addressing the impact of new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, platooning, and electric powertrains, Randy Fleming, district sales manager for Volvo, said despite what many see in the media, autonomous trucks will not mean the end of the driver.

“I don’t see drivers going away,” Fleming said. “Everything that we’re rolling out today from a technology standpoint are to help our drivers do a better job, it’s not to replace the drivers.”

Fleming said the push today for driver assist technologies is driven primarily to increase safety.

“With 93% of commercial vehicle accidents involve human error, that is a huge opportunity for us to possibly automate some of the functions of the driver in order to take away some of those human errors,” he said.

Fuel efficiency was another key motivator for trucking companies and government bodies.

“We’re all in this make money, and if we can create product for our customers to use that drives a better bottom line for them, then we’re going to introduce leading edge technologies that will cause better fuel efficiency,” said Fleming, “given that fuel is one of your top two costs in operating a trucking company.”

Kyle Favel, owner of Favel Transportation, said he doesn’t see how a fully autonomous truck would help his business, but driver assist is something drivers would find rewarding.

“The driver is engaged so we’re not getting rid of the driver any time soon. But if we can make their day less fatiguing, right on,” Favel said. “A driver assist platform is probably going to be better for us as fleets.”

Employing owner-operators, Favel said many experienced drivers are opposed to the rapid pace and use of technology.

“They’re always skeptical of anything new,” he said. “We still have guys in our fleet that will not adopt a DPF or NESER system.”

As for platooning, Fleming said there has to be a return on investment for the technology to make sense – research shows the lead truck sees a 4.5% improvement in fuel efficiency and the second anywhere between 8-10% – and introducing technology for technology’s sake is not the way to approach things.

Day added she needs to see that a technology is proven to work and is safe before investing in its use.

“If we were to invest in everything,” she said, “we would probably not have the technology around long enough to see a return on our investment.”

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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