DRIVER SHORTAGE: FINDING A LONG-HAUL SOLUTION

DRIVER SHORTAGE: FINDING A LONG-HAUL SOLUTION

For the next five years, U.S. industries will require 80,000 new truck drivers every year. Canada will need 50,000. To accommodate the expansion of free trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico, many of the drivers will need to be bilingual.

Unfortunately, qualified truck drivers are a rare commodity.Not only does the transportation industry lack sufficient truck-driver applicants, but the typical applicant chooses truck driving because of the independent lifestyle it affords, not because he wants to pursue a long-term career path with advancement and growth opportunities.

These factors contribute to a high rate of turnover in the industry - up to 90 percent or more annually. The few recruiting techniques, training opportunities, and human-resources management alternatives that do exist are grossly inadequate to rectify a driver-shortage problem of this magnitude.

Perhaps the only way to address the issue is to implement a paradigm shift industrywide to attract a new kind of applicant to truck-driving careers - an applicant who considers truck driving an investment in his future.

The entire recruiting process must be overhauled to position truck driving as a long-term career with attractive benefits and growth opportunities.

Competitive compensation, training and reviews focused on self-improvement will help appeal to career-oriented applicants. Solid human-resource management for the new employees will reduce turnover rates and develop a more committed employee base for the industry.

It is vital that trucking companies commit to training and developing their new employees by having access to resources such as top-quality driving schools and employee-leasing companies that offer value-added human resource services. While the investment is significant, the return is a program that works to quickly alleviate some of the pressure on trucking companies to find qualified drivers.

Companies must be willing to help finance truck-driver training by identifying lending institutions, reimbursing employees for their training costs, or both.

Trainees must be sent to schools that can teach lifestyle adjustment, customer service and satisfaction, and basic truck-maintenance knowledge, as well as language courses to develop bilingual truck drivers. Trucking companies must also be willing to provide over-the-road driving skills training to employees.

Employee-leasing companies will manage the qualified drivers, providing human-resources services that improve driver satisfaction and driver retention. Establishing delivery and relocation programs for the new truck drivers allows the employee-leasing companies to place drivers in the market areas that meet the logistical needs of the trucking companies.

Using a method called slip-seating, in which more than one driver is assigned to a truck, will make trucks more profitable while improving the quality of life for drivers. While one driver is off the job, another driver is using the truck, permitting drivers to spend more time with their families by alleviating the amount of time they spend living on the road.

Trincon Associates Inc., my consulting company, is helping a new company, World-Wide Solutions Inc., put these strategies into practice with much success.

World-Wide Solutions' primary objective is to establish a Puerto Rican-based truck-driving school that will train Puerto Rican residents to drive trucks in the United States. The school will supply the qualified drivers to a U.S.-based company that will lease them to trucking companies in the United States and Canada.

World-Wide Solutions will be responsible for providing human-resources management services to ensure that the Puerto Rican truck drivers are being properly managed by North American trucking companies. The company's goal is to generate 2,000 jobs annually.

Puerto Rico's high rates of unemployment and low average annual salary provide the perfect conditions for finding employees interested in a long-term career that offers advancement opportunities.

However, the lifestyle that truck driving necessitates many times deters those same quality workers. To lessen the severity of the typical trucker's lifestyle, World-Wide Solutions uses a slip-seating strategy that allows employees to work in the United States for three weeks, then return home to their families in Puerto Rico.

M.S. Carriers, a large U.S.-based trucking company headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., has stepped up to the plate by agreeing to serve as a test site for World-Wide Solutions.

All companies in the industry, however, must play their part in tackling this crisis. The truck-driver shortage is a serious issue throughout the nation and North America. The right direction has been identified; now it's up to all of us to take the wheel and make the solution a reality.