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UNT Students Tackle the Driver Shortage Problem.

Febuary 2016

By Lynn Gravley CEO

 

      In December, I shared some details about the University of North Texas Logistics and Supply Chain Management program and the ongoing case study project that NT Logistics sponsors (you can read more about that here. We are in the process of kicking off the new semester with a new group of students with what I believe may turn out to be the most unique project to-date. I’m looking forward to sharing more on this new project as the semester continues, but for the next few blogs, I want to talk a little about some of the work the students created in last semester’s case study challenge.

      Tasked with developing a plan that can help shippers become known as “friendly shippers” in an effort to combat the growing driver shortage, five groups of students, mostly seniors, approached the problem from a variety of perspectives. The group that had a very interesting assessment of the situation surveyed over 30 carriers in an attempt to gain a broader perspective of the various factors affecting driver turnover.

      Survey results provided a stark look at some of the issues facing drivers in our industry, including some of the most often cited:

  • More home time built into schedules.
  • Be treated as professionals.
  • Restructure lumper policies and standards.
  • Recognize that drivers are human.
  • Shippers and carriers should be required to meet the same time requirements as truckers.

Although many of us in the industry are well aware of the many challenges drivers face today , I believe some of the findings were a dose of reality for the students situated to be the future leaders of the logistics and supply chain industry. Although their approach netted them relevant and timely material, their proposed solution was the highlight of their project.

      Arguing that carriers and shippers are already well aware – and have been for some time – of the frustrations and challenges drivers face , the students argued there is no set plan to correct poor practices and implement driver protection. Entrenched in the technology culture that most of them grew up with, and using forward thinking skills, the team proposed the creation of a new smartphone app that would put some control into the hands of the actual drivers. Ultimately, they suggested that a 3PL and a software developer create a digital scorecard for shippers based upon driver input and implemented via a platform that runs across multiple devices. Although at least one similar approach is being promoted in the industry, the group argued that a truly successful product would need to be created by a company with strong industry connections and experiences.

      The proposed solution is interesting on a couple of different levels and deserves, at the minimum, some serious contemplation. My own experience is that many of the larger carriers are already factoring in the mirage of customers as shippers or consignees and pricing difficulty into the equation. Some carriers have begun scoring shippers and refusing to send one of their most valuable assets, a driver, to certain companies. This practice underscores the need for shippers to become more invested in the way drivers are treated, especially as capacity tightens due to the combination of regulation and a changing driver demographic. For example, the difficulties faced by truck drivers is so widely recognized that young adults who might be well suited to the industry are encouraged to seek out a college education so they do not have to settle for this type of life. By correcting some of the more serious issues, truck driving could once again become a valued and sought after career for young drivers.

      However, in order for this idea to work, shippers will have to be willing to receive driver scores and feedback and then commit to acting in a reflexive manner. This type of commitment includes both ideological and financial shifts for some shippers. Unfortunately, it may take a financial “penalty” in the form of increased rates for some shippers and consignees to alter the way business is done in some respects.

      On a more philosophical note, one has to wonder whether just the ability to provide feedback might itself provide some sense of ownership or investment to drivers. Certainly, if drivers repeatedly provide feedback and still see no changes, that feeling of ownership will likely fade and whatever benefits were reaped from participating in the scoring of shippers will soon be negated. The one thing I believe we can all agree on is that this problem is causing significant problems for most everyone in our industry. If we do not find a way to come together and solve the issue, we are in for a long haul the next 10-20 years. Our challenge today is to navigate the barrage of current Federal Regulations as well as the proposed regulations, while continuing to provide an ample capacity of professional drivers and working to improve conditions and service levels.