By Thomas A. Balzer, CAE
When I started representing the trucking industry in 2006, my very first meeting was about the truck driver shortage and the high turnover rates in the industry. Even back then, I thought the problem was an industry perception issue. Today, 11 years later, we are having the same discussions, and it has remained a perception issue. Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express, Inc., and the current chairman of the American Trucking Associations, has devoted his tenure to improving the perception of the industry. Everyone in the industry should adopt the same passion for improving the image of trucking as Kevin; our futures may literally depend on it.
We have all read the potential daily effects of the trucking industry's sudden halt. But ask yourself: what would happen to commerce in this country if trucks were late by just two or three days? Where I grew up we saw this play out regularly, a blizzard meant empty store shelves. What if that happened every day? Given the expected future constriction of capacity, increasing demand, and the ever-growing driver shortage, that scenario isn’t so far-fetched.
The discussion surrounding new technology as seen in autonomous vehicles brings an innovative look to the industry, but for me harmful to our ongoing driver shortage conundrum. Augie Picado, country manager for UPS Mexico, recently did a TED Talk entitled, “The Real Reason Manufacturing Jobs are Disappearing.” During his talk, he revealed that 87% of lost manufacturing jobs are a result of improvements in productivity through automation. Do you think that someone who just lost their job to automation is thinking about retraining in an industry where the leading news stories are about driverless technology?
Don’t get me wrong; I am very much a proponent of technology in the trucking industry. But the current stories being reported in the media are detrimental to our industry’s biggest problem. Although they don’t have to be. In fact, I think talking about technology could be our biggest asset in recruiting. Technology could be our biggest promotional tool for recruiting new people into the industry.
For prospective drivers, there are many new challenges they might face, and technology can ease that anxiety.
Don’t know how to drive a manual transmission? We have automated manual transmissions that solve that problem.
Worried about operating a vehicle that large, with all those blind spots? We have crash mitigation technology.
Worried about how traffic congestion will impact your pay? We have commercial real time GPS systems installed on our trucks that can get you there in the most efficient manner.
Unsure about where you are going to park and the availability of safe parking itself? We have systems in place that help find parking. The list goes on and on, describing how technology can make truck driving a more attractive career.
Instead of allowing Silicon Valley to lead the story surrounding truck technology, we need to change the narrative about how the industry is implementing technology to: improve safety; provide drivers with assistance when needed; and implement programs that give drivers the comfortability to work with technology in order to get the most out of their day. We need not focus on how technology is going to make driving truck a potentially "obsolete" job.