Let’s face it, most of us are sick of hearing about the truck driver shortage (and many argue in the industry that the truck driver shortage is a myth…and any google search on “truck driver shortage myth” will give you years and years of this debate). However, hiring qualified truck drivers remains part of the reality of fleet operations, and could remain one of the primary challenges facing us for years to come. The fact that of the matter is, if nothing changes the industry could find itself short by 160,000 drivers by 2028. This may be due to not only fewer people wanting to drive a truck, but also could be due to how well shippers with small fleets, large fleets, or carriers themselves go about attracting drivers.
Many fleet owners and managers are looking at the cultural and financial aspects that can help address this issue. However, it’s also important to look at the tools at our disposal which can perhaps provide inroads into solutions that we may not have considered. As our digital age becomes more entrenched, offering a variety of platforms and devices, growing all the time, isn’t it about time we considered how technology could contribute to any truck driver shortage?
We’re going to take a look at a few of the key areas in which the advances of our digital landscape could help fleets face the personnel issues of the present and the near future. Where can we not just apply technology, but understand how its presence can make a significant difference?
Part of the driver shortage problem is ostensibly the industry’s inability to draw in new drivers as more experienced workers age out. In order to tackle this challenge, focus needs to be placed upon understanding what is important to the rising generation of workers. Millennials place a higher premium on cultural aspects of companies and are educated about their rights to safe spaces and what constitutes a hostile work environment. When faced with such injustices in the workplace they are more likely to be vocal about it, and rightly so.
With this in mind, it’s worth noting that Millennials are more likely to embrace employers who are open to utilizing technology as an integral part of the workplace culture. Fleets can certainly capitalize on this by adopting fleet management platforms that mimic social media and encourage messaging or gamified aspects. Utilizing video conferencing software via mobile devices can also help create more meaningful connections with colleagues in fleets that are frequently spread across the country.
Perhaps one of the larger cultural issues that could be preventing new generations of drivers engaging with fleets is one of environmental awareness. Studies show that Millennials place a great deal of importance in choosing employers and industries that make distinct efforts to reduce their potential damage to the climate. Fleets must be more willing to adopt environmentally friendly technologies that reduce emissions or promote energy efficiency. Fleets that invest in electric or hybrid vehicles, can find themselves to be more attractive to environmentally conscious generations.
With any discussion about how technology can help solve the driver shortage, there’s usually the obligatory section on automated driving. But let’s face it, self-driving trucks are not likely to be an adequate replacement for the expertise of experienced human drivers. Not to mention that the technology certainly isn’t yet at the level where it could be a safe, reliable, or practical option — and probably won’t be for some time.
However, this doesn’t mean to say that elements of automated technology couldn’t be utilized by fleets to help address some of the issues surrounding the driver shortage. Largely from the perspective of demonstrating that automation technology can be a valuable source of support for newer drivers as they build their confidence and experience. The rise of the cognizant Internet of Things (IoT) has ushered in the drop in prices of sensor and communication technology. This means that supportive technology that doesn’t fully take control of the vehicle but can accurately assess and react to dangerous situations are starting to edge into reality.
Solutions could also be presented as 5G networking begins its widespread implementation in 2020. An infrastructure that allows for uninterrupted connectivity will help make vehicle to vehicle (V2V) technology practical for fleets. Peloton Technology recently showcased its new truck platooning system, which utilizes V2V to allow one truck driver to control multiple vehicles. Radar sensors fitted to the vehicles to collect and share data that allows the paired vehicles to respond to braking, acceleration, and even alert the driver to potentially hazardous scenarios.
By necessity, becoming a commercial driver requires substantial training. In the U.S., requirements can vary from state to state, with those looking to obtain a CDL license in Massachusetts, for example, being subject to specific age restrictions, skill requirements, and even vehicle inspections that they may not face in Florida or Ohio. While technology cannot solve the issues of varied state licensing requirements, it can help encourage new drivers through the utilization of accurate, in-depth training systems that demonstrate that drivers are always provided with the highest standards of education to ensure they are confident and prepared for their career.
Training schools are already starting to adopt simulators for learner drivers. As technology progresses, these are becoming more realistic, with full cabs being recreated, and environments and traffic patterns are being rendered accurately. This means that new drivers are familiar and comfortable with commercial scenarios before they step into the real thing. However, it’s worth fleet owners and managers considering the fact that virtual reality technology is becoming more affordable, and may be a useful investment in ongoing training for drivers.
Coupled with a simulator, VR technology creates a fully immersive experience for drivers, helping them to hone their skills in difficult conditions while occupying a safe space. This may also prove useful if fleets are hoping to encourage drivers to level up to hazardous materials endorsements — a way to introduce employees to the reality of dangerous environments, and reassuring them that such work is well within their capabilities. One of the challenges integral to the driver shortage is industry retention, and by providing regular supplementary training, and opportunities for drivers to improve their skill sets, fleets are demonstrating that they consider their drivers to be valuable contributors that are worthy of development.
The driver shortage is a potentially serious problem. Much of our economy is reliant upon our ability to transport goods across the country — and, indeed, the planet. Fleets need to commit to exploring how new technology could attract new drivers, improve safety, and retain existing experts. This may require some investment, and a little out-of-the-box thinking; but each actor in the industry has a responsibility to ensure that fleets thrive.
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