Arkansas Trucking Association

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The Last Word

An Honorable Profession

By Kenneth Calhoun, Guest Writer

For years, we’ve been dealing with the very real crisis of the truck driver shortage. The American Trucking Associations reports that freight volumes grow year-over-year, but the industry is still many drivers short of supporting that growth. In addition, driver turnover is up 11 percent this year. And yet, freight companies are not just missing men and women behind the wheels of trucks. There is another crisis we are facing in terms of manpower: a technician shortage, the men and women under the hoods and hovering over motherboards of increasingly complex freight machines. The whole chain is affected as demand grows, but manpower stays the same.

In terms of supporting the fleet that moves our nation, we have only the lowest capacity to keep the system running. Wait times at service locations are at record lengths. Staffing fleet maintenance facilities has become a constant challenge. Asset utilization is suffering, and it is harder each day for the fleet operator to deliver the service their customer demands.

So what gives? Aside from the exponential growth of complexity in the vehicles, near record delivery of new vehicles and growing demand for delivery of raw materials and finished goods, why are the wheels coming off?

One doesn’t have to look hard to find the root cause. We simply don’t have the people required to support the equipment. The most skilled and senior employees at many companies are retiring in large numbers. Meanwhile, those same companies can’t expect their younger workers—especially talented Millennials—to stick around much longer than 36 months, if that.

Despite this double whammy, many companies have yet to reshape their environments so they can recruit and retain the type of workers who can perform at the level that company executives have come to expect.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the issue, look at these statistics from Anthony Carnevale, National Association of Manufacturers. In 2010, the skilled worked gap (unfilled jobs) sat at 5.3 million people. The projected gap in 2020 is 14 million.

In short, we are not just competing against each other for the very limited talent pool available but also against all the other industries dependent on these people.

Our challenge as an industry is to elevate the image of our technicians. Recently, there have been discussions indicating that the European counterpart to our technician enjoys a higher social status. Is that a function of the required three year apprenticeship after the formal education?

We will have to create the type of work environments that will attract and retain top talent. This is done by demonstrating a commitment to their long term career growth. We are obligated to communicate our expectations to the employee by setting goals and empowering them to achieve those goals. In addition, we must provide support by regularly reminding employees that we are ready and willing to listen to their concerns and questions. We have to communicate the value of the employee to the organization by providing personal recognition for their efforts and giving routine updates on the company’s performance as a result of those efforts. In addition, we should present the opportunities for growth as they become available. It is also imperative that we provide transparency giving them insight to what is going on within the organization. Doing so creates buy-in and promotes a spirit of partnership and can only benefit our businesses as a whole.

It is also our responsibility to take a hard look at how we prepare people to enter our industry. Are we competing for the best and brightest? Are we doing everything needed to equip our institutions with current technology and then holding them accountable for the quality of education that they provide?

Finally, we have to deliver the message to the young people that will be entering the workforce that ours is an honorable profession with unlimited career growth potential. I suspect that as many of you reading this now did not start in the position you have. In my estimation, the leaders of this industry by a large margin started in the trenches as drivers, technicians and many others of the numerous roles that propel the commerce and economy of our nation.

Kenneth Calhoun is Vice President Customer Relations for Truck Centers of Arkansas and serves as Chairman of the Service Provider Study Group within the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations.  He can be reached at kcalhoun@truckcentersar.com

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201

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Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
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