The American Transportation Research Institute Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry 2018 report listed the number one concern facing the industry as the driver shortage. We reached out to Scott Cornell, transportation lead and crime & theft specialist for Travelers Insurance, to learn what the insurance industry’s view is on the driver shortage, and its position on the different aspects and solutions being considered.
In your observations, how is the truck driver shortage impacting micro and small motor carriers?
Cornell: Competition for top talent is always high, but even more so now as a result of the driver shortage. We’ve seen larger carriers using different strategies to recruit and retain the best candidates, including sign-on, referral and stay-on bonuses, pay raises, route adjustments that allow drivers to be home more frequently, and even financial support toward an online degree for employees’ children. These types of incentives can attract top-tier talent but can pose a challenge for smaller carriers that aren’t always able to offer them.
That’s why I think it’s crucial for smaller carriers to prioritize training the people they hire and to take advantage of all resources available to them. This could include industry organizations or their insurance carrier. For example, Travelers customers of all sizes have access to a Risk Control portal, which provides information on driver training as well as helpful whitepapers and industry updates.
The American Trucking Associations is asking Congress to approve the development of a truck driver apprenticeship for individuals between 18 and 20 years old. Are there any safety concerns regarding lowering the interstate CDL driving age to 18?
Cornell: It’s widely thought that more experienced drivers will have a lower risk profile, but new drivers are essential to the trucking industry. Bringing on a younger workforce could engage an entirely new generation of drivers.
The industry is facing a unique issue where almost half of its workforce is between 45 and 64 years old, while only 15% is between 25 and 34, according to the American Trucking Associations. Not only are carriers hiring to keep up with demand, but they are also hiring to fill the gap left from drivers entering retirement. Allowing a younger generation the opportunity to enter the industry could provide a stop gap as more seasoned drivers prepare to leave the workforce.
When it comes to building a safe and successful workforce, the onus isn’t so much on an employee’s age as it is on finding the right people and training them properly. As with all new hires, businesses can’t afford not to invest in a thorough onboarding process. This step is essential and can make all the difference between a safety-minded employee or one with more risk.
To help compensate for lack of experience, newer or younger drivers should have additional time in development, such as extra weeks in driver school, additional driving courses, and a structured driver finishing program, which can include a shadowing stage and a mentoring process.
Providing these resources can help cultivate better, safer employees and set them up for a long and successful career.
How might the driver shortage impact the safety and transportation of cargo? What can carriers and drivers do to help protect shipments?
Cornell: The common assumption is that more experienced drivers will be involved in fewer accidents, resulting in less frequent damage to cargo from upset or overturn—one of the leading causes of loss throughout the industry. But in a time when more inexperienced drivers will be entering the workforce, a layered approach to safety training is essential to protect cargo.
This can include screening and training new employees, providing good equipment and maintenance, and using enhanced technology such as event-recording cameras, which can see if drivers are distracted, falling asleep, or even if they took a turn too fast. This technology is very cost-effective, making it accessible even to small carriers, and can allow for real-time coaching to develop new drivers.
Just like with safety training, we recommend a layered approach for driver training around cargo theft, another leading cause of loss in the industry. It’s important to make drivers aware of the risks and to teach them to avoid situations and areas where cargo theft may be more prevalent. Hard-locking devices on trailers and tractors can help prevent theft, while technology such as covert tracking can be used for prevention and recovery. At Travelers, we work with our customers to help them implement processes and procedures to prevent theft, and our Special Investigations Group is dedicated to recovering stolen cargo and is available 24/7/365.
What solutions and/or recommendations to address the trucker shortage do you have for micro and small carriers?
Cornell: Amid the current shortage, it’s imperative to maintain standards for hiring safe drivers to make sure that you’re bringing in the most qualified candidates possible. I work closely with the experts from our in-house risk management team, who regularly help our customers navigate challenges such as this.
Some of their recommendations for driver selection include:
- Create consistent standards for all drivers.
- Verify past work history and safety records.
- Conduct background checks.
- Evaluate motor vehicle records for violations.
- Conduct written and road tests.
- Verify certification.
- Adhere to applicable commercial vehicle driver qualification rules.
Additionally, it’s important to have resources and support available for existing employees beyond traditional safety training. This can include putting programs in place to prevent dangerous driver fatigue, encouraging drivers to prioritize their health and wellness, and understanding drivers’ needs on the road.
Creating an environment where drivers feel valued and respected will appeal to potential candidates and will also help retain your own best drivers and reduce turnover.