The Freight, Transport, Distribution, and Logistics (FTDL) sectors face an unprecedented shortage of qualified drivers globally. In this interview, Marco Henry, Global Ground and Rail Procurement and Fleet Management Leader, shares his views on this global concern and the initiatives to retain and attract these professionals.
What is the current situation compared to before this unprecedented driver shortage, and why are we missing drivers?
Marco Henry: The IRU (The World Transport Organization) estimates that over 2.6 million truck driver jobs were unfilled in 2021, and the shortage has soared in 2022. If this shortage is due to social, economic, demographic, and legislative factors, every country shows specific reasons. In the UK and Australia, political decisions on immigration – respectively Brexit and a ban on immigration under covid-19 - have reduced the number of available drivers, while in Europe, stricter regulations on the use of Eastern European Drivers and the conflict in Ukraine have overcomplicated the situation. In the USA, the sky-rocketing demand for e-commerce has moved a consistent part of the driver’s population from medium and long-haul to the better work-life balance of last-mile distribution. Before Covid-19, the profession's image was already degraded because of safety/security problems and generally poor working conditions. We struggle to attract young drivers and particularly those under 25 and women. Furthermore, Independent Contractors and Small Owners Operators are leaving the business, attracted by better wages and lower working hours in other sectors, including warehousing. On top of the difficulty of recruiting or retaining drivers, we are facing a demographic bomb as the global driver’s average age is 47, with one-third already over 55. We will need 10 million new drivers in the next decade to cope with retirements.
To make up for the driver shortfall and alleviate the heavy toll on logistics players, what are some solutions that could be put in place globally, according to you? Why?
Marco Henry: There is no simple answer to this question. To remain attractive employers and keep trucks moving, companies have increased drivers’ wages in 2021. According to American Trucking Association, the industry has raised pay by five times the historical average. However, these wage increases don’t seem to have attracted more professionals to the industry. Many drivers prioritize time over money in their life. They use more extensive paychecks to reduce their driving, enjoy more time at home, or chase higher salary conditions, creating an all-time high turnover. These observations lead me to say that we need to change our culture and improve working conditions for drivers. For instance, the industry must invest in more secure and widespread parking infrastructures and provide better treatment to drivers at delivery sites with facilities improving their comfort while out of their truck cabins. Another crucial improvement is reducing waiting times at loading and unloading sites and alleviating border congestion and driving bans to provide them with more genuinely relaxing time. Finally, providing efficient equipment and more in-cabin comfort and lowering the minimum age to access the profession in some markets would bring more well-being to drivers.
What measures is CEVA taking to attract professional drivers, and what results do you observe?
Marco Henry: CEVAS’s priority is to make drivers’ lives easier, avoid red tape and simplify the qualification and onboarding process. It implies educating planners to monitor drivers’ schedules to ensure a correct work/life balance. Monitoring loading and unloading schedules and document releases will help ensure minimal waiting hours. We must also make sure drivers access comfortable resting facilities at our depots. This solution is easy to achieve and will dramatically improve their quality of life.
We are also working on providing drivers with a real career path. The Dock to Driver Program we recently launched in the USA aims to attract young and female drivers by enabling candidates to move from a warehouse role to a driver’s job and vice-versa. We will support the suitable applicants with their driving school costs and provide on-the-job training with qualified instructors to get them behind the wheel within weeks.
Retaining qualified drivers is another of our challenges. We must improve the drivers’ consideration. In North America, we introduced the Workhound platform allowing drivers to anonymously respond to weekly surveys through text messages, providing feedback, suggestions, and ideas to improve their daily lives. All answers are then analyzed by a panel of operations, HR and management team members and trigger corrective actions. Working on the drivers' working conditions has resulted in a dramatic turnaround of our new hires and retention results, which are now almost back to pre-pandemic levels. It is an outstanding achievement for the North American team that will lead the way for similar initiatives at a global level.
What’s your view on the future?
Marco Henry: While driver shortage will be a challenge for the next decade at least, world-leading companies, such as CEVA, will be leading the way to adapt to climate change. The solutions to address this challenge will help us attract new drivers. In fact, the electrification of our fleet will dramatically improve the driving experience. We are already testing autonomous driving, and drivers testify about the improvement it brings to their work conditions. By the way, we call it “autonomous driving”, but be assured that there will always be a driver behind the wheel!