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Going to school on the driver-shortage issue

Nov. 26, 2012
Every few years the driver shortage rears its ugly head, everyone sits around and debates how bad it will be, what caused it, and how long it will last. Then, nothing happens to solve it.
Every few years the driver shortage rears its ugly head, everyone sits around and debates how bad it will be, what caused it, and how long it will last. Then, nothing happens to solve it.

Nearly everyone you talk to has a thought about how to solve it, yet it is still an issue. Raise driver pay? That might work. Improve the image of professional drivers? That could work too. Create shorter routes so drivers have more home time? That’s been tried with some success.

(In the photo above, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, official driver of the Mack Pinnacle bound for the U.S. Capitol, shares his experiences as a truck driver with Kandy Kilbreth, a U.S. Forest Service Job Corps student.)

I think we can all agree that there is no one solution, primarily because the shortage is not caused by any one problem. Is it too much freight? Is it because companies don’t want to keep employees on the payroll if they are not needed? Is it because of new driver entry regulations and CSA? Or is it because we all want higher freight rates and that does not happen if there is an overabundance of drivers and capacity? Probably a little of each.

So why do we keep talking about the driver shortage? Because it’s there, and it affects business. According to a November report released by the American Trucking Assns., there will be more than 200,000 unfilled positions in the trucking industry for qualified truck drivers by 2022.

If we’re serious about solving it, though, we need to look at solutions. Fleet Owner’s Small Business Review writer Tim Brady offers some of his thoughts here, thoughts that include improving payment practices and taking an honest look at your own operations.

Here’s my take: Start young.

Any business must attract younger employees for a number of reasons – to replace retiring workers and poor performers are just two. But a continual infusion of “fresh blood” helps keep business – any business – on the cutting edge. It brings in new ideas and ensures the business has a continuous supply of talent.

Young workers can be molded to reflect the values and work ethic that are important to businesses. And the way to attract workers is by reaching them when they are young.

Mack Trucks recently partnered with the U.S. Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCC) to offer a ride-along opportunity for a student interested in a truck driving career. Kandy Kilbreth, 24, of Poplar Bluff, MO, took advantage, joining the Mack Pinnacle tractor and trailer during a leg of the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree tour.

(Learn more about this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree tour, including a video of the Mack Pinnacle model).

Kilbreth, who is enrolled in the Welding Career Technical Training program at Mingo JCCCC in Puxico, MO, used the opportunity to explore whether she might like to pursue a career as a truck driver.

“It was a great experience to ride along in the Mack Pinnacle during the Capitol Christmas Tree tour,” Kilbreth said. “I think I would enjoy driving a truck for a living, and the experience of riding along with a professional driver helped me better understand what it would actually be like to be a driver.”

“Since trucks haul nearly 100% of consumer goods, Mack believes it’s critical that we do all we can to help people get excited about a career in truck driving,” said John Walsh, Mack vice president of marketing. “One way to do that is to offer students like Kandy the opportunity to ride in a big rig.”

And it’s not just drivers, but technicians and even management positions within the industry. Perhaps both carriers and manufacturers need to more seriously look at opportunities – either through partnerships or internships - that exist at the collegiate and even the high school and middle school levels as a potential employment source.

Of course these students can’t be your drivers or techs of today, but they could be tomorrow. Maybe learning what opportunities exist in the industry will change some minds of today’s youth about what great career opportunities exist in the industry.

And maybe that interest will manifest itself in an educated, committed workforce.

Is it the solution to the problem of a too few qualified drivers and technicians? Absolutely not. But it can’t hurt. Your next hire just might be Kandy Kilbreth.

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