Solving the truck driver shortage, whether it exists or not

Bob Rutherford Headshot

The truck driver shortage is the Loch Ness Monster of the logistics world. Some swear it exists. Others think it's a myth. The rest are just trying to make a buck off the spectacle.

On one side is the American Trucking Association (ATA), which represents big trucking companies and claim there's a shortage of 79,893 drivers in the U.S. Conversely, we have the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), who says not only do we have all the drivers we need, we might have too many.

My plan to solve this so-called driver shortage? It’s as simple as it is fantastical. Let’s start with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned us about the military-industrial complex. You remember Ike, right? The president told us to beware of the monster under the bed, only for us to respond, "What bed?"

Here’s the deal

America has always been a military-industrial complex. It’s in our DNA. We churn out war machines and warriors like McDonald’s churns out Big Macs, and anyone who says "Make America Great Again" needs a history lesson and a reality check. Even on our worst day we're still the best house in a bad neighborhood.

The machine needs to be fed. And what does it need? People. Healthy, educated, patriotic people. One key ingredient for this human smoothie? 18-year-olds.

Back in my day, when we turned 18 it was straight into the meat grinder of Vietnam. June 1966: Career Day in the gymnasium, where defense contractors, community colleges, private enterprises and military recruiters outnumbered the kids. The Marines sweet talked us into becoming Marine recruits with promises of camaraderie and delayed entry buddy programs. My buddies and I signed up faster than you can say, "Semper Fi."

That formative experience gave me a lightbulb moment: why not solve the truck driver shortage and the immigration conundrum in one fell swoop?

Brace yourselves for my ingenious plan

Let’s set up permanent career day centers at strategic locations. Think of them as the DMV, but with less soul-crushing bureaucracy. Eighteen-year-olds and immigrants seeking asylum walk in and they don’t leave until they’re a cog in the great American machine. Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, "It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do and then do your best." So we’ll train them to do precisely what the machine needs: Warfighters. And what do Warfighters need? Supplies.

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As Sun Tzu said in the Art of War, "The line between disorder and order lies in logistics." Ike Eisenhower built the National Defense Highway System, so, logically, truck drivers should be considered part of our National Defense system. Think about it: as part of our national security system, truck drivers could perform double duty, even triple duty. Why not extra pay for a truck driver who is also trained as a medic for war or civilian service? Extra bucks when you own profound knowledge. How about basic car rescue skills after an accident? Truck drivers should have PhDs in various side-of-the-highway skills and be paid accordingly. 

And for those who don’t want to be part of the military-industrial-trucking complex, we’ll have alternatives. Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, World Central Kitchen – we’ll create a new agency if needed. Can you cook? You’re feeding the world’s hungry with José Andrés and the World Central Kitchen. Don’t like that? Fine, we’ll find something for you to do. The machine needs all sorts of cogs.

As Deming also said, "Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival." So let’s ensure these recruits learn something useful that keeps them – and the rest of us – rolling along. In the end, we’ll have no truck driver shortage and everyone will have a place in America's grand, chaotic and perpetually dysfunctional mosaic.

So there you have it, folks. A plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. And remember, as Dr. Deming wisely noted, "A bad system will beat a good person every time." Let’s fix the system one truck driver at a time. As Sun Tzu might have said if he had to navigate the I-95 during rush hour, "In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity." Let's seize it, one 18-wheeler at a time.

Bob Rutherford is a 50-year veteran of the trucking industry. Thirty of those years were as a member of the TMC where he earned both the Silver Spark Plug and Recognized Associate awards for his contributions to the industry. He is also an Ambassador for the Conference.