Last year there was much for the trucking industry to reflect on. It’s been a wild-and-crazy year as the economy improved, fuel prices remained low, and fleets had problems keeping truck drivers in the cab. Even so, some of these concerns didn’t end up being the game changers many thought they would.
The truck driver shortage, for instance, didn’t end up being as bad as we thought it would be. With the rollback of the new restrictions on the 34-hour restart and a buildup of inventory at the beginning of the year, the capacity crunch has been more like a capacity nibble.
Still, the driver shortage did land on the American Transport Research Institute’s annual survey of top fleet concerns. Here’s what truckers were thinking about this year:
- Hours-of-Service regulations;
- Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program;
- The truck driver shortage;
- Truck driver retention;
- The lack of available safe parking;
- The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate;
- Driver health and wellness;
- The economy;
- Infrastructure, road congestion and highway funding;
- Truck driver distractions.
With the year come-and-gone, and knowing what truckers have on their minds, what should the industry focus on as we move into 2016?
Truck Driver Shortage
With recent changes to hours-of-service and updated rules on the ELD rule, the majority of items on the industry’s top ten concerns list revolve around the truck drivers themselves. In fact, the list is a study in regulatory and driver concerns.
The first focus item should be on finding and retaining good truck drivers. Although the employment crunch wasn’t as bad as some thought it would be, this doesn’t mean the industry can stop focusing on the question of qualified talent.
There are a number of factors at play in the workforce question. Whether it be an aging workforce, competition from other occupations, or regulations that decrease productivity, truckers have a lot to think about in the New Year. Pay is another problem. Although it has been rising, is it enough?
Also, while how much we pay truck drivers is important, are we thinking enough about how we pay them? Or how they are treated?
Furthermore, the industry must do more to reach out to women, minorities, young people and people in other industries. But once it has them in the door, the next step is how it keeps them.
Truck Driver Retention
As fleets have worked to ensure they have the cabs filled, they are finding creative ways to not just bring people in the door, but also keep them. Technology is allowing for innovative new ways to not only recruit and train, but to incentivize, as well.
In year 2016, fleets will need to continue capitalizing on things like video training, electronic files, and in-cab technologies. Advanced systems will allow fleet managers to reward and incentivize truck drivers who meet and exceed specific performance goals.
Employee engagement is another way motor carriers will keep bodies in the cab. We recently reported on fleets that were building on-site medical clinics, gyms, and other fancy amenities to ensure truck drivers feel the love when they return to headquarters. These initiatives will need to be redoubled in 2016.
What To Watch For
A couple things that we probably won’t need to worry so much about next year are driverless trucks and smart highways. Although the connected fleet continues to evolve, we are still a long way off from true automation.
Another unknown for 2016 is government regulation. Although we have some more clarity on hours-of-service, the ELD rule and highway funding, with an election hear on the horizon, who knows what Congress or the administration might do.
Overall, 2015 was a good year for trucking. The economy is on the mend and the future looks bright.