In light of strong economic growth, turbulent weather, and the electronic logging device (ELD implementation, the pressure is on for driver recruitment and productivity. How long can we expect these conditions to last and what can we anticipate in the future?
Experts at the Intermodal Association of North America Intermodal EXPO said that trucking capacity will continue to tighten as these conditions intensify in their session titled, "Is Trucking Capacity at a Crossroads?" These experts included Mike Burton, President, C&K Trucking; Spencer Frazier, Senior Vice President Sales, J.B. Hunt Transport Services; Phil Shook, Director of Intermodal, C.H. Robinson; Kenny Vieth, President & Senior Analyst, ACT Research. The session was moderated by Larry Gross, President, Gross Transportation Consulting.
As companies across North America continue to grapple with the driver shortage, discussions of raising driver pay and age were at the forefront of discussion. "We're excited about the possibility of the driver age going down from 21 to 18," said Frazier. "[In addition,] technology may help attract people to a job they might otherwise not be. However, labor will still be a challenge for us moving forward."
Burton linked the importance of proper technology training with driver turnover: "We don't have a recruiting problem; we have a retention problem." Drivers were noted to be lost typically within six months of hiring.
The supply and demand of trucks themselves also plays a vital role in capacity, not to mention the importance of fuel economy amid rising diesel prices. Vieth noted that new technologies in trucks, such as automatic braking, may help to not only mitigate accidents but also capitalize on fuel efficiency.
When it comes to hours of service (HOS) requirements, flexibility is a key component noted by managers and drivers alike. Specifically, fewer restrictions on when and how drivers take their breaks may easy capacity constraints and promote driver productivity.
In addition to flexibility in hours spent on the road, driver preference will play an ever-stronger role in shipper treatment to carriers. As drivers continue to voice their values of comfort and respect during time spent at ports, shippers will invest in amenities and minimizing the time required to have the driver progress from the facility. "The U.S. economy rides on the back of trucking," Gross said in summation of panelists' opinions.
On the topic of ELD implementation in the drayage industry versus over-the-road, panelists agreed that trucks regularly traveling 100+ miles have reached a mature situation. Burton praised the edification efforts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to catching the industry up to ELD usage standards and instructions.
Beyond ELDs, the growth of industry technologies is set to to influence visibility of all parties in container tracking, service repairs, preventative maintenance, driver location, and more. "Open visibility [will] play a functional role...in how we remove waste from the supply chain," said Shook. "Clean data will be vital for the future."
The outlook? Tailwinds of increased pressure for fuel efficiency, driver hiring, and technology adoption will continue to exist while visibility applications take hold and positively influence business-to-business (B2B) relationships. Burton also noted the precedence of promoting driver productivity versus resolving the driver shortage in the interest of stabilizing capacity.
"For drivers, it's not all about compensation; it's about lifestyle," Frazier said. "How can technology aid consistency in the drivers' work? [We must work to] ensure how drivers may have a more consistent experience."