Trucks at Work

Adopting an “adaptable approach”

“Rolling with the punches” is a well-worn maxim in the boxing world, much less the trucking industry, bespeaking the ability to both absorb blows while maneuvering to gain better footing for a counterattack.

Lately, with the U.S. economy stuck in slow gear, companies within and without the freight business keep trying to stay as agile and nimble as possible in order to adapt with whatever might be coming down the pike – good, bad, or just plain mediocre.

Indeed, according to a survey of 528 U.S. business executives by global consulting firm Deloitte LLP entitled Mid-Market Perspectives: 2012 Report on America's Economic Engine, many are preparing for “continuing uneven market conditions” and are focusing on three critical areas going forward this year; talent, finance and technology.

In fact, 86% of respondents to Deloitte’s poll believe that continued uncertainty is tempering their expectations for economic growth, so they’re making sure to stay on their toes to avoid any big haymakers that might knock them over.

"Because of the significantly slower growth than we've seen in previous recoveries, mid-market executives are increasingly cautious about their expectations for 2012," noted Tom McGee, national managing partner for Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services, a division within Deloitte LLP. "Mid-market companies are now trying to meet the challenges of this volatile economy by taking a more adaptable approach to managing certain key business fundamentals."

Technology is of course one tool that’s helping companies of all shapes and sizes become more “adaptable” and one good example of how truckers are tapping into technology’s potential comes from small fleet owner Sal Gonzalez.

Indeed, Deloitte’s survey found that executives affirm that technology continues to be vital to increasing productivity. Business process automation remains the top investment pick to increase productivity for 46% of those responding to the firm’s poll, while 40% – up from 29% in the same survey last year – recognize cloud computing and “Software as a Service” (Saas) as one of the top three technology investments for 2012.

Of course, the real key part to any business is its people – and that’s especially true in trucking. From the “big picture” perspective, Deloitte found that business executives are making plans to invest more in current employees while moderating plans to hire new employees. Some stats:

  • The percentage of executives planning to expand their domestic workforce dropped to 42% from 48% in 2011.
  • Despite high unemployment, every executive interviewed acknowledged that it is difficult to find certain categories of skilled talent especially in engineering, healthcare, and information technology (IT).
  • More companies (51%) plan to invest in their existing workforce through training compared to last year (34%). Additionally, fewer firms plan to increase the number of part-time workers (only 13% compared with 18% in 2011).

Developing all-critical business “talent” is a theme consulting firm ManpowerGroup harps on continuously, as the company believes business leaders need to step up and partner with educators to drive and close the skills mismatch in the U.S.

Jeffrey Joerres, ManpowerGroup’s chairman and CEO, pointed out that U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that while overall April jobless rate dropped slightly to 8.1% from 8.2% in March, with the U.S. private sector adding 115,000 new jobs, transportation and warehousing lost jobs over the course of those two months.

“Unless we narrow the talent mismatch gap, unemployment will remain stubbornly high, even as employers project greater hiring optimism,” he noted. “Business leaders need to act now to establish working partnerships with the colleges, vocational and high schools in the communities where they do business. Employers must proactively identify skills they need from workers into the future, and then collaborate with academic leaders in identifying the right training required. We can no longer afford to have business and education working in silos if we want U.S. communities to compete economically.”

[As an aside, check out Charles Kilgore with Crete Carrier Corp. below, talking about the importance of “patience” in truck driving.]

Another chord in the “adaptability” theme truckers should play close attention to is the rising issue of youth unemployment as young workers struggle to enter the workforce and develop careers. This group of workers is most affected by the demographic and economic shifts are alienating populations across the global economy, according to a white paper ManpowerGroup authored entitled Wanted:  Energized, Career-Driven Youth.

"Today's youth are tomorrow's workforce and this country's future, and we need to do a better job of making sure they have the opportunity to acquire the necessary work-ready skills that employers are looking for," stressed Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup’s president of the Americas and chairman of Junior Achievement USA. "Establishing strong partnerships between business and education is a vital driver of bridging the skills gap and accelerating employment success for our future workforce."

That’s oh-so-true in trucking, where a dearth of “young blood” in the driver’s seat is pushing up the average age of the industry’s big rig operators to nearly 50 in some cases.

[As another aside, changing the approach to truck driver “health and wellness” is going to be another “adaptation the industry must make. Here are some thoughts on that subject from Crete Carrier Corp.’s Zach Zade.]

It’s certainly not easy to adapt to all the change going on out there in the freight market, much less the business world at large. But as Charles Darwin noted, adaptation is how species survive – and with things going the way they are going right now, survivability is something truckers need to keep focused upon. 

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