Carriers are in a pickle when it comes to dealing with the shortage of qualified drivers. Simply put, it’s a job that fewer people are interested in taking up. It’s not seen as a viable career choice due to the lifestyle issues. This is especially true in the category of long-haul full truckload work. It’s very difficult to find any hard numbers but it’s accepted in the industry that about half of the people that obtain a Class A (Class 1) licence don’t last beyond the first year. Carriers must also deal with the fact that half of the current drivers will reach retirement age in the next 10-15 years.
Over the past couple of years there has been a focus on attracting more women to the industry. Women are mobilizing and organizing themselves. That is resulting in a recognition of the need for professional training and mentoring programs, health and wellness programs, safe havens for parking, and clean accessible washroom facilities suitable for all drivers. This is also fueling a push to change the public image of the trucking industry and show it in a more positive light. These efforts are attracting new blood to the industry, but it may be too little too late.
The problem is, we don’t know where we are headed when it comes to what a driver’s job will look like over the course of a 40-year career. This is a result of the technology boom.
It is not simply about when or if fully autonomous trucks will make their debut. If you are looking to choose a career at 21 to 25 years old, why would you choose the trucking industry? I hate to admit this, but I would not recommend it to my grandchildren as it stands today. Trucking as an entrepreneurial pathway to independence was a big attraction in the past but the industry is consolidating into fewer and larger players. Finding a niche to compete in as an independent trucker is becoming difficult, if not impossible.
With that consolidation comes a high degree of control over what happens in the cab of a truck. One of the greatest attractions to driving a commercial vehicle in the past was the freedom a driver experienced on the road. You were very much your own boss, even as an employee. Many drivers now find their time managed by the home office, even to the point of having to travel specific routes at specific times. Drivers are finding themselves on a leash as a result of how technology is being employed and many drivers don’t care for it. It is not an attractive recruiting tool.
Maybe I’m out to lunch on this whole issue. Working as a long-haul driver where I am now, I continue to experience a feeling of empowerment and control over my life. I’m made to feel an important part of the team because my voice and my concerns matter. It’s not that I can do whatever I want, it’s that I maintain control over my day, the equipment I operate, and the responsibility of delivering on time is my own. Most of all this puts my personal safety in my own hands. That’s incredibly important.
The advice I offer to the industry is to make sure every driver has the ability to contribute and share their experience. There needs to be a bottom-up approach to problem solving and implementing technology in meaningful ways that advance a driver’s quality of life and advance productivity. We need a universal system of training and recognition to level the playing field for drivers and carriers alike. Yesterday’s pathway into the trucking industry for new drivers was through ownership. Today’s pathway for new drivers needs to be through professional accreditation. The same way we do it in the front office.
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.