Perspective: It’s time to bring back the veteran drivers

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What if the coach of a professional basketball team had fouled a key player in the closing minutes of a playoff game, only to then look down from the bench and realize he didn’t. no replacements? This is what many truck owners and managers see on a daily basis. The trucking industry doesn’t have a “bench” – it doesn’t have enough quality drivers to step in and, in our case, fill the seats.

While the driver shortage is not new, COVID has made the problem worse.

COVID exposed the underlying reasons for the shortage – an aging workforce with an average age of 55 and an industry that has struggled to recruit young people or retain existing drivers. This paradigm has left the trucking industry vulnerable to a major unforeseen event, such as the pandemic.

Due to the makeup of its workforce, trucking has been hit harder by the pandemic than other industries. We all know of older drivers who have retired or simply quit rather than face the challenges of the pandemic.

But did anyone stop to ask if these drivers would have left if the pandemic had never happened? Many of these drivers were some of the most skilled and safest in the industry, and perhaps they weren’t quite ready to get off the road. Some left due to circumstances such as health issues or the economy, not necessarily because they wanted to stop driving.

Fulton

Could these seasoned professionals be attracted? The answer is yes, but in the future work must be adapted to this age group, both from a lifestyle and pay perspective.

At this point in their lives, many of these drivers want to be home every night and may find it difficult to load or unload goods. Short journeys that allow them to sleep in their own beds at night and less physically demanding jobs – like hanging and hanging loads with “contactless” freight – can keep them coming back.

Improving the public image of trucking may also force them to come back. The pandemic has increased the importance of truck drivers to the public. And the public is also now more aware of the shortage of drivers, which in the field can lead to a greater appreciation for these professionals.

But attracting these drivers again is a short-term solution at best.

Longer term, we need to create a pipeline to meet our future needs. This better public image could spark more interest among young people to consider careers in trucking. It will take some time, but telling the story of our industry to the next generation is vital, especially at this time.

To attract young people as drivers, we must continue to update our image. We need to market ourselves as the dynamic industry that we are, where truck drivers operate high tech trucks with technology rivaling that of any other high tech profession.

Young people want to work in a positive work environment where their opinions and points of view are valued. We need to communicate and engage these young people through social media to help them understand what the industry has to offer. We can create messages for these different platforms that create and maintain interest.

And we have to start early. We can reach out to our young people when they are in their formative years, such as middle and high school. In doing so, we must also involve school officials and teachers to help them understand that there are many paths to success. For example, some companies are bringing truck simulators to schools, which piques the interest of students, who can spend a lot of time playing video games. It gives them a real sense of truck driving and can get them excited about a career in trucking.

The coach in our example above is looking at the match clock. He has veterans on the bench that he can call in to finish the game. But before too long, he will have to fill this bench with strong young talents. Let’s put those veterans back in the game now and get the young recruits ready to step in soon.

Greg Fulton is president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 600 companies directly involved or affiliated with trucking in Colorado.

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