Tech and driver inclusion can help shrink the driver shortage

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Updated Aug 12, 2022

The office walls at flatbed transporter PS Logistics (CCJ Top 250, No. 37) are made of glass – even at the executive level.

Andy Allison, director of driver technology, said that’s because the company wanted to create a culture of transparency and inclusion so its drivers know they are always welcome to enter and express any concerns.

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“We’ve always been driver first,” Allison said. “The driver is the face to all of our customers. We have drivers coming in to talk to the owners of the company on a regular basis. So we make them understand that we all have jobs because they do their job. So we do anything we can to make sure they're appreciated, they’re understood, their voices are heard.”

That includes incorporating technology into their operations.

Allison said PS Logistics has always been good about staying on the cutting edge of technology when it came to back-office operations but not so much when it came to the cab of the truck. So the company began exploring its options and chose to use the Samsara platform to offer its drivers more than just an electronic logging device.

“We want to try to use any technology available for drivers to make their lives simpler,” he said. “With this tablet, we're able to give them their ELD; we’re able to give them turn-by-turn navigation; we're able to give them their scale bypass systems – all of that on a single device – as well as we're able to put our driver manual out there for them; we're able to give them access to their payroll statements; they can scan their bills of lading; they can give us all of the required documentation from their device from the cab.

“They don't have to go inside, stop their truck or deal with any of that headache. It's all handled inside their little world there in the truck.”

The last time he checked, the company had a turnover rate near 50% – well below the industry standard, which averages 89% at large fleets, according to data from the American Trucking Association. And he said he firmly believes technology and driver inclusion have helped PS Logistics retain its drivers.

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Technology and trucker inclusion can help dissolve the current trucking crisis that is the driver shortage and the resulting supply chain disruptions.

That’s where automation comes in, said Dmitri Fedorchenko, CEO and co-founder of online freight shipping marketplace Doft.

“The success of automation lies in its ability to combine efficiency with the human touchpoints that matter most to drivers and carriers,” he said. “By automating technically complex work items such as route matching and dispatching with human oversight, the industry can increase confidence and overcome skepticism associated with automated technologies.”

He said the first step a carrier needs to take in implementing this technology is executive commitment; management needs to prioritize this, inspire the company with a tangible vision and explain why it matters. And then management needs to define a clear automation strategy, he said.

“This should cover supply chain teams and other functions in the company, such as purchasing, manufacturing, human resources, finance and IT. This is a cross-functional commitment requiring teamwork beyond those boundaries,” Fedorchenko said. “Imagine automating billing when items are delivered to a customer rather than losing revenue for a given quarter because it wasn't clear the customer had received the product. This is happening today for most companies, and yet it can be automated with supply chain software.”

Inclusion and workplace culture

While automation can make drivers’ jobs easier, all the technology in the world cannot keep a driver from leaving without inclusion.

Carriers need to change their workplace culture to be more inclusive, Fedorchenko said, and the best way to start is with open and honest communication.

“As a leader, you want to make your employees feel comfortable in their ability to develop a healthy and safe rapport with their peers, as well as feel that they can come to you if anything crosses the line,” he said.

Satellite enabled command, control and communication solution Somewear Labs has built its platform around helping carriers better communicate with drivers.

The company’s hardware and software combine to allow fleets to track and communicate with drivers even in cellular-denied or degraded environments. In addition to other features, management can create workspaces that are like group chats that allow driver-to-driver contact as well, and drivers can also see where other drivers are on the map.

Jonathan Besquin marketing manager at Somewear said the device – as well as mobile phone and web apps – help drivers feel included and that they’re being heard.

“One of the factors that translates into a poor experience, or working conditions or frustration … that lead to the driver shortages is the lack of communication with the fleet. That’s the primary capability that our solution offers where it's going to create that open channel of communication to streamline operations, which will likely decrease that frustration and lead to increased satisfaction in what they're doing,” Besquin said. “So picture a truck driver going through a remote area, which happens frequently, of course. They can have our technology on the dashboard, and that's our piece of hardware. Through our software, they can maintain that open channel of communication, whether it's with other drivers on the road or with management to streamline logistics and just create a more fluid and painless process.”

He said eliminating driver frustration is possible with more communication, which can help a company retain its drivers. But communication and automation technology not only helps carriers with retention, but also it's something the young drivers companies are looking to recruit expect.

“They've had a mobile phone or smartphone in their hand probably most of their life. I'm Gen X so it's still kind of new to me a little bit, but they expect to have everything readily available for them at a moment's notice,” Allison said.

And Fedorchenko said attracting younger drivers, specifically more millennials, is a key step in creating a more inclusive culture.

He said women and veterans are also an important piece of the puzzle.

Inclusivity isn’t just about making sure drivers feel included with open lines of communication and involving them in decision-making processes like PS Logistics does with its choice dispatch, allowing drivers to select the loads they want. It’s also about bringing on a diverse driver pool and making them feel included with policies, benefits and amenities.

“Women make up just over 10% of the entire trucking industry. The gender gap is narrowing in trucking but remains wide. Trucking is unpretty for millennials and younger generations. Lots of veterans are getting retired,” he said. “This can be fixed. The best way to create a more gender-balanced world in the trucking industry is not to worry about what traditional roles have looked like or who has filled them.”

He said carriers should develop a hiring plan that can reach a diverse group of potential candidates to help shrink the driver shortage. He suggests carriers reach millennials via social media channels and create a fully electronic and user-friendly application process. And to attract more women and veterans, he suggests focusing on healthcare, childcare and disability policies.

Additionally, he said it’s important to foster a safe work environment for diverse hires.

“Racism and sexism are unfortunately stereotypes about the trucking industry that need to be eradicated with the help of managers working hard to create a kind company culture that works like a well-oiled machine,” Fedorchenko said. “Another mistake companies make is not adequately equipping new hires with the hours and pay rate necessary to raise a family on. When hiring all genders, it is important for companies to create comprehensive parental leave packages and give many options in terms of daycare and schooling.

“It is vital to ask workers what parts of your company’s specific work culture and payment plans work well and what parts could benefit from some revising.”

Angel Coker Jones is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal, covering the technology, safety and business segments. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and kayaking, horseback riding, foraging for medicinal plants and napping. She also enjoys traveling to new places to try local food, beer and wine. Reach her at [email protected].