If we are going to attract young people to a career in the trucking industry, we need more than just a new marketing plan preaching a set of motherhood values based on past performance and the freedom of the open road.
When robots take bad jobs is the headline of an article written in The Atlantic and published online Feb. 27. It is worth a read. It highlights everything that is wrong with the trucking industry in the US from the perspective of a new hire.
Our employment standards here in Canada are not the same as they are for our neighbors to the south. Broadly speaking, we have more protections in place for individuals entering the industry but the push towards contractors over employees continues to bleed across the border. This article paints a picture of an industry that wouldn’t be a young person’s first career choice.
I recently read that Celadon now allows its lease-operators to haul for other carriers. Although the news was written from the perspective of enabling owner-operators and giving them more choice, it is not difficult to read between the lines and see how this is a first step towards combating the uberization of the freight market. It moves dispatching into the driver’s seat – a different twist on automation.
Over at Techcrunch.com on Feb. 28, there was a report on Starsky Robotics. This is a trucking company that is operating trucks remotely. Experienced drivers are operating trucks from the office. Capabilities are limited at present, but they have been in business for two years, have serious funding, and are expanding their operation. They have already done some driverless highway hauls and have plans to get drivers out of some trucks by the end of 2017. This is an example of using automation to have individual, experienced drivers control multiple trucks from a central location.
These three examples highlight the multitude of changes the trucking industry is embroiled in at the moment. We have a push from the top chasing after greater returns on investment through mergers and acquisitions, adoption of new technologies, and driving down employee costs. At the same time there is constant messaging about attracting new blood to the industry. So, we’re telling people how great this industry is to work in while we continue to undermine driver compensation and look for new ways to make a driver’s job redundant.
Is it really as bad as it looks on the surface? No, not from the perspective of drivers that work for progressive companies that recognize the value of the synergy between well-trained professional drivers and emerging technology.
This is where I pick up the drum I’ve been beating for the past several months. Training, certification, and a universal apprenticeship program. It’s time to realize the free market isn’t the be all and end all for solving the human resource problems that exist at the driver level.
The way to attract new blood into our industry is to market a clear career path to prospective drivers. That means bringing together government, training institutions, trucking companies, and equipment manufacturers under the same roof. That’s a big ask, but it has to be done and requires leadership from government to put forward legislation focused on long-term growth rather than short-term return on investment.
Technology is not going to replace drivers. It will reduce the number of drivers required. It will create specialized operators of heavy equipment on our roads that will require a higher level of training. The job of the driver is going to change. A universal method of training and certification is the only way to manage this change in a way that will minimize disruption across the trucking industry while defining the job of the truck operator in a rapidly changing market. That’s what we need to attract new blood.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.