Just when the economy has loosened its chokehold on business, it looks like trucking has been hit with a triple whammy — a severe driver shortage, chaos over hours-of-service work rules and a government move to put “black box” recorders in every commercial truck. While each in its own right is a serious problem, the three are actually closely related and will require the same response — some new thinking on the part of fleet managers.
Let's start with the driver shortage. Old recruitment strategies aren't working. By targeting people who already have CDLs, fleets are just succeeding in churning the current pool, stealing drivers from others to replace the drivers stolen from them. And creating new drivers from the old, familiar sources — those leaving the military or vocational schools who are already familiar with the industry — just isn't bringing in enough people to ease the shortage.
We need some new approaches. Unemployment remains stubbornly high in the old rust belt metropolitan regions or in areas where manufacturing jobs have been exported to low-wage countries. Recent immigrants, too, are seeking rewarding work.
Driving a truck is certainly a hard job, but it's also a respectable one, one that could represent opportunity for many who are struggling to find just such a chance. They just have to be told that it exists. You won't do that by recruiting booths at truck shows or truck stops. The time has come to stop preaching to the choir.
As for HOS, the final resolution of the current mess lies in the hands of the courts. Whatever new rules eventually emerge could well have elements that trucking dislikes, but they will be the law and they will have to be accommodated.
Complaining might feel good, but you might be better served by accepting any new rules as an opportunity to talk about trucking's commitment to safety and to the well being of its drivers. From this perspective, HOS reform offers a large public stage to tell the whole world that trucking has good, safe jobs for the willing. And as we learned with the first go-round of HOS reform, shippers have cargo to move no matter what the rules, and they will adapt to keep it moving, especially if foot-dragging or resistance could be seen as endorsing unsafe conditions.
It's a similar story for black box recorders. The recent Federal proposal to require such tamperproof recorders for driver and vehicle operating histories is a clear indication the black box is coming.
You first reaction to a universal black box is probably a negative one based on the costs involved and the stiff resistance you're sure to encounter from drivers.
Instead of fighting the inevitable, you might consider embracing the concept. Taking a public position that such technology will hurt the scofflaws and level the playing field for all the good operators can go along way in improving the trucking industry's image, both as a good corporate citizen and as a good place to work.
Flexibility in operations has always been one of trucking's greatest strengths, allowing it to embrace deregulation and prosper in an environment that rewards innovation. Now it's time to draw on that same strength to resuscitate trucking's public image.