The trucking industry has long predicted a critical shortage of professional drivers. In 2005, Global Insight’s research for the American Trucking Associations forecasted a shortage of 111,000 drivers by 2014. Even high national unemployment rates have not attracted enough new drivers to replace retiring Baby Boomers. Three motor carriers are pioneering solutions that promise to revive an understaffed industry.
Social media generates interest in long-haul trucking careers
Trent Camion, Hiring Manager for Stonefield Shipping, attributes the shortage to generational differences. Stonefield uses social media to reach a younger generation of workers. "Pinterest is the new Red Sovine," said Camion.
Stonefield Shipping pins, or bookmarks, links to trucking-related tutorials using the photo sharing website. "Although young people don't know how to use tools, they love looking at other people's DIY projects," Camion explained. Recent posts included printable stencils for mud flaps and feng shui tips for sleeper berths.
Reducing wasteful packaging volume improves parcel delivery
Rather than focusing on recruiting more drivers, Dependable Deliverables is piloting a program to make package delivery more efficient. For two decades, the parcel carrier has regretted transporting boxes that were too big for the items inside. But how could it avoid a packaging problem that originates with its customers?
The Dependable Deliverables website describes an "innovative, eco-friendly" method to remove excess air and reduce the need for packaging peanuts. In The Link’s exclusive first look, Jenn Weston, Vice-President of Operations, elaborated:
"We crush all non-fragile parcels before loading them onto the trucks. It's like stepping in a trash can to avoid taking it out half-empty. It's the responsible thing to do."
Originally a manual task, workers soon improved upon the process of cardboard compression via forklifts and pallet jacks. Loading areas display posters emblazoned with the acronym B.D.B.U.B.C.B. to remind workers of the policy: Break Down Boxes (Unless Boxes Contain Breakables).
Although Dependable Deliverables has been successful in fitting more shipments into its trucks, Weston admitted that the solution has its own limitations. "We have witnessed a sea change. Since B.D.B.U.B.C.B. was introduced last month, we have seen demand for fragile goods delivery increase 900% among our regular clients. Yesterday, we filled an entire truck with parcels marked 'fragile.'" Increased demand for fragile shipping services was attributed to the economy.
Dependable Deliverables forecasts that demand for standard shipping will normalize as customers recognize its reliable service in transporting even their most precious cargo.
Technology, outsourcing eases truck driver shortage
Good news for anyone who thinks that solving the trucker shortage is as easy as flipping a switch. Electron Trucking has found a way to do just that.
Remote Tractor Operation, R.T.O. for short, allows truckers to work from home. Space in the tractor that would have been occupied by a driver can be used for additional storage.
Highly sensitive sensors enable a 5-axle truck to be monitored and operated remotely. Sensors accelerate, brake, signal and steer. The person operating the vehicle uses video cameras in the mirrors to determine when the truck needs to be taken out of cruise control and into a more active mode, such as during heavy traffic.
To incentivize safe driving, Electron Trucking employs a badge-based system of virtual rewards, similar to that of Foursquare. Prospective employees are recruited from World of Warcraft. Vehicle operator applicants are tested for dexterity and response time in addition to knowledge of commercial driving regulations. Despite these precautions, this high-tech solution to the trucker shortage has raised some debate.
As veteran industry commentator Buck Carville noted, "Many of these remote 'drivers' have never been behind the wheel of a rig." Many have expressed concern that the position of vehicle operator will complicate industry regulations, ultimately leading to a revision of CSA rules. Others assert that because no one is driving these trucks, the FMCSA would have no authority to define operator hours of service or whether an operator would be allowed to use multiple monitors to control multiple vehicles.
Operators provide their own computer, Internet access and backup power generator. Because vehicle operators aren’t required to obtain CDL's, training is faster, less expensive and more practical for mom-and-pop carriers and owner-operators. Remote tractor operator Jamie Bruhl added, "I get paid twice as much as any other trucker. Because I have two computer monitors, I drive for two companies during the same shift. One time I got lucky -- the loads were going on the same highway, so I ran a little convoy with myself."
Image by NotrucksNolife | Editor's notes