The unifying theme of a wide-ranging discussion among several chief executives at the Truckload Carriers Association conference this week was that trucking needs to make sure its customers have a clear understanding of the challenges the industry now faces.Shippers need to be as familiar as carriers are with the complexities of the driver shortage, industry costs, inflation and fuel prices, said the presidents of Swift Transportation, Knight Transportation and Prime, Inc. Talking about the coming driver shortage, Robert Low of Prime said that it is hard for shippers to understand but the truth is that drivers are not making enough money to reward them for their sacrifices.
That’s in part because shippers are used to the truckload sector’s ad hoc business model, which makes for efficient trucking but is hard on the driver, he said. Over the past several years the industry has not made much progress on this issue because with business down there was not much need to. That’s going to change this year, he said. “It bodes well for rates but we need drivers.”Richard Stocking of Swift echoed the point: “The burden is on the industry to educate the shipper,” he said.
One tactic Swift has adopted is to bring in unemployed workers for training to get a CDL and then indoctrination into the company as drivers. The average age of those novice drivers, by the way, is 43. “We’re not growing kids to be truck drivers,” Stocking said.Stocking stressed that it is important to create a driver-friendly environment. “(Drivers) have the hardest job out there and we owe them a lot of respect,” he said. Another Swift tactic is to start assigning several drivers to a single truck, so that it’s easier to schedule time off.Kevin Knight of Knight Transportation said that because his company has always hired experienced drivers, the recruiting job is getting more challenging. In preparation, the company a couple of years ago started a training business that takes on CDL holders and integrates them into the business, as a supplement to its recruiting efforts.Knight returned to his core message: “We need to work with customers to make them understand that this industry needs reinvestment. It is a difficult mission but if all speak loud and clear there’s a great opportunity that we will have breakthrough.”