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The shortage of qualified truck drivers continues to be a top concern for members of the trucking industry, a nationwide survey reveals.

It was one of the findings of the American Transportation Research Institute’s 16th Top Industry Issues report, which identifies and ranks a number of the industry’s key concerns. In addition to the driver shortage, the top five concerns include the lack of adequate truck parking, improvements in driver compensation and retention, and for the first time since 2005, rising insurance costs.

In addition to assessing industry priorities, the ATRI report also offers considered solutions that were proposed by the participants for addressing the hot-button issues they raised.

ATRI is the non-profit research arm of American Trucking Associations, which recently released the 2020 report and performs other industry research. For this year’s survey, the institute received responses from 3,122 truck drivers, trucking companies and other industry stakeholders—an all-time record number for the 16-year-old poll. More than 1,000 truck drivers responded, citing as their top concerns truck parking, driver compensation, and detention and delay issues.

“Having such a robust sample gives us a very accurate picture of what issues are of most concern to the trucking industry,” comments Rebecca Brewster, ATRI’s president. “With this information, the industry can best target its resources to address trucking’s concerns.”

For the fourth year in a row, the driver shortage was the top industry issue overall, as well as topping the motor carrier list of concerns, highlighting the challenges fleets face in recruiting new talent and keeping their current drivers. In addition, driver retention was the fleets’ No. 2 issue, and was sixth on the combined list.

Closely related to the driver shortage, driver compensation was ranked as the No. 2 industry issue, up one spot from its 2019 ranking. Truck parking climbed two spots this year to become the third highest ranking concern and achieved its highest ranking since it first appeared on the Top 10 list in 2012.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program moved up four spots this year to claim the fourth highest rank. Rounding out the top five is insurance cost and availability. The remaining top 10 concerns were tort reform, the economy, detention/delay at customer facilities, and hours-of-service regulations.

“For a number of reasons, 2020 has been a tremendously challenging one for our industry and our country, but as ATRI’s survey lays out, there are a number of issues we must address in addition to the ones put in front of us by this pandemic,” says ATA chairman Randy Guillot, who is president of Southeastern Motor Freight and Triple G Express.

“From finding and keeping qualified drivers to the increased costs of insurance and burdens imposed on our industry by unwarranted lawsuits, ATRI has identified the issues our industry cares most about and outlines plans for how we can solve them,” Guillot points out.

Driver Shortage Cures

Despite the recession brought on by the pandemic in early 2020, freight demand is returning to pre-COVID levels and early indicators are showing that the shortage will soon return to the levels experienced in 2018 and 2019. ATRI says the driver supply challenge is exacerbated by the number of drivers who have left the industry due to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse as well as older drivers who have retired or exited the industry over COVID-related health concerns.

Solutions to the driver shortage suggested by survey respondents (in order of the importance given to them) are:

Advocate for Congress and federal agencies to develop an apprenticeship program to attract, train and retain safe 18- to 20-year-old interstate drivers to the industry.

Faced with an aging workforce where over a fourth of the driver population (27.4%) is 55 or older, fleets are looking to identify a younger cohort of drivers to fill seats. To increase the available pool of qualified candidates, 52.6% of respondents believe that opening interstate driving positions to 18- to 20-year-olds is the best strategy to address the shortage.

Legislation to take this step is pending in Congress, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) has initiated strictly-controlled and limited pilot programs to study the safety of younger drivers on the road.

Quantify the impact of state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) delays on new driver credentialing for both Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLP) and Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) testing.

One of the many industry impacts arising from the Coronavirus pandemic was the shuttering of state-run facilities including public rest areas and state licensing agencies, the industry members note. The latter had a direct impact on the driver supply because new entrants to driving ranks were not able to secure CLPs and CDLs.

While many of those facilities are beginning to operate again—although at reduced capacity and throughput—quantifying the impact of those closures to better understand the backlog of new entrants into the system was identified by 20.1% of respondents as the top recommended strategy.

Identify unique requirements and issues associated with expanded driver recruitment of women and minorities.

According to data from the Department of Labor, the truck driver population is made up of 6.7% females and 41.5% minorities. Expanding both populations is viewed by 19% of the respondents as a top strategy to mitigate the driver shortage.

“Beyond addressing the shortage, recruiting additional women to the industry will likely have a resulting safety impact,” the institute observes. ATRI notes that its 2018 Crash Predictor Analysis found that female truck drivers outperformed their male counterparts in every statistically significant driving behavior examined, and the male drivers were involved in 20% more crashes than were the female drivers studied.

Take the Pressure Off

Other areas of concern cited in the survey were also noted to have their own negative impacts that result in pushing professional drivers out of the industry, respondents assert. These include the persisting perception of inadequate compensation and poor working conditions for drivers. In fact, the driver compensation issue rose this year to the No. 2 spot on the Top 10 list.

In the latest Driver Compensation analysis issued by ATA, the average annual pay for a national truckload solo van driver was nearly $58,000 in 2019, representing a $6,000 increase over 2017. ATRI’s Operational Costs of Trucking analysis also documented increasing driver pay and benefits.

“Despite these increases, many drivers believe the shortage and compensation are inextricably linked, and that the only solution to recruiting and retaining drivers is to increase pay or modify compensation models,” the institute says.

Strategies for dealing with the issue that were proposed by respondents are (in ranking order):

Analyze truck driver compensation in relation to other competing employment sectors, such as construction.

Trucking often has to compete with other industries that may offer similar or better pay while providing workers with preferred lifestyle options, such as the opportunity to be home every night. This is particularly true this year due to the pandemic spurring a surge in e-commerce purchasing and a resulting need for more local and regional drivers. Understanding how driver pay stands up against competing industries is the preferred strategy of 35.1% of survey respondents.

Research and assess the effectiveness of carrier retention programs that financially incentivize drivers for performance in the areas of safety, fuel economy and trip productivity.

Driver compensation is not limited to direct driver pay, and many fleets use performance bonuses as an additional way to compensate and reward drivers for safe driving and other metrics. In ATRI’s 2019 Operational Costs of Trucking, fleets reported average annual safety bonuses of $1,238. Studying the efficacy of various bonuses for rewarding and retaining drivers is the recommended strategy of 27.8% of the respondents.

Quantify the relationship between driver compensation models and driver satisfaction and productivity.

“While driver pay is only part of the equation, it is a key factor in maintaining and/or enhancing driver satisfaction,” ATRI stresses. “The industry continues to explore new and expanded pay models to increase driver satisfaction.”

These models include salaried, hourly, per-load and percentage-of-load, as well as offering an expanded suite of driver benefits. As a result, 27.5% of respondents believe the best strategy for addressing driver compensation is to quantify the relationship between pay models and driver satisfaction and productivity.

The 2020 ATRI survey report also includes detailed recommendations regarding the rest of the top 10 issues, including driver retention and delays at customer facilities. The report can be accessed at the institute’s website

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