We live in times of turmoil and change. Climate, technology, demographics, and population growth all influence our lives. We can be overwhelmed by these changes or choose to re-define how we live and work. The trucking industry must continue to be flexible and open to the opportunities disruption presents.
National Trucking Week, September 2 to 8, is a great time to consider where to go from here. Wildfires, flooding and other catastrophic weather events are forcing us to confront the effect of excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Transportation generally is a scapegoat, and heavy trucks bear part of the blame. But trucks are also a testing ground – largely successful – for devices and strategies that reduce GHG emissions.
Fewer emissions mean increased fuel efficiency, and no one likes that more than trucking. The industry has been developing and adopting efficiency measures for years. Some are ubiquitous, like the aerodynamic profile of most highway truck tractors; others have become more common in the past decade, such as trailer side skirts, boat tails and wide-base single tires. We’re also witnessing a race to introduce new electric or hybrid zero-emission Class 8 tractors, the highway workhorse that makers from Kenworth to Volvo and newcomers like Tesla, Nikola and others are working to develop and launch across North America and globally.
These changes, along with automation and truck platoons, are re-branding trucking as “futuristic” and could do what the industry’s old school roots cannot: attract a young cohort of drivers and technicians who want hands-on time with clean, sustainable, high tech equipment.
Addressing licensing restrictions to allow 18-year-old high school grads access to commercial certification (currently only available to 19 year olds in BC) is a step out of the industry’s hands, but makes sense as newer, safer, better-tracked equipment reaches the market and the industry. The commercial driver shortage, a demographic challenge, could become less of a threat as a result.
On the horizon for years, the driver shortage is now a reality trucking companies are scrambling to address. The industry is changing the way it does business, not only in terms of its equipment but also its HR practices. Companies are increasing truck driver salaries as a way to attract new drivers, but salaries alone are not an incentive for recruitment. Given accurate tracking by electronic logging devices – required in the US and already adopted by numerous Canadian companies – companies need to safeguard a truck driver’s time and many are doing so.
Shippers need to work with the industry on scheduling and wait time expectations. And, where possible, companies should re-examine the long days permitted by hours-of-service regulations (in Canada, a maximum of 14 hours on duty/13 of those driving; in the US, 14 hours on duty/11 driving). Imagine asking the rest of the workforce to extend an eight-hour day to meet those standards, and, as long-haul service providers do, to spend the majority of their time away from their families and communities.
Companies are developing individual solutions for their operations; ideally, they need to engage their current and prospective drivers in a meaningful conversation to ask what they need to balance their working and personal lives. And the truck driving job itself ?
It requires a level of professionalism that employers need to demand and support. That could mean calling for a truck driver training standard, requiring new hires to have adequate training and experience, and mentoring entry-level drivers.
Truck drivers who take pride in what they do already operate with professionalism and skill – expertise we should respect and acknowledge.
Times of turmoil and change can be exciting, for the industry, for trucking companies, and for the women and men willing to drive for a living.
Thank you to everyone who’s already leading the way.