In the busy and demanding world of trucking, industry players are inevitably reminded of two significant challenges that show no signs of lessening now and in the near future: trucking capacity and the driver shortage. Neither issue will solve itself with current approaches. Companies are now faced with the reality that change must be embraced through improving training standards and the utilization of advanced technology solutions.
This might not come as a surprise to some, but for others still operating with outdated practices, reality presents its own set of challenges. To look at the numbers the industry is dealing with, a report released by Insurance Journal confirmed the driver shortage figure has reached 51,000–up from 36,000 in 2016.
Some industry leaders, such as Advanced Training Systems CEO John Kearney, are confronting these issues at every angle–from a legislative, cultural, educational, and technological positions.
“The issue is that the existing workforce is aging,” Kearney maintains. “The truck is a different piece of equipment from what it was a few years ago–it’s very sophisticated. The technology advances are significant and the regulations are outdated. Simulators are really emerging as a major change to the training field. A lot of companies are now going to simulators because there are some things they can do that are not possible to train any other way.”
Advanced Training Systems (ATS) has spent more than a decade developing cost-effective training simulators and preparing aspiring truck drivers across the United States through many of the training schools in the country. These driver training schools offer students unmatched training experiences that have propelled ATS in a leading position in the driver training field.
“In 2008 we started the process of developing simulators because we know they are an excellent part of the training process,” Kearney says. “Today, we have simulators in a number of places around the U.S. and Mexico with operations in California where we do manufacturing and technology development while our corporate offices are in Florida.”
Among the scenarios truckers are faced with at a moment’s notice that traditional training methods can’t address include sudden road obstructions, aggressive drivers, inclement weather and truck malfunctions. These unavoidable situations present some of the most challenges in preparing the next generation of truck drivers.
“Let’s take the example of a front tire blowout,” Kearney suggests. “If someone does that in a real truck, they could kill someone. There’s also the risk of something coming out on the road all of sudden and if the driver swerves, they could create an accident. These types of scenarios can be taught in a simulator.”
He continues, “Ice is another example. If a driver is sliding on ice, what do they do? They don’t want to slide in a real truck, so what we do is have simulators that train properly so drivers know how to react if that happens. The reaction time is improved through the process of repetitive proper actions needed to teach muscle memory in the training process.”
Earlier this year, 28 vehicles were involved in a devastating truck collision in Lakewood, Colorado, that claimed the lives of four people. Since then, conversations surrounding improved training methods have taken priority among industry players, with simulators leading the position of potential solutions.
“Technology is a big part of the answer,” Kearney maintains. “If we use technology, we use better methods of training and we’re not sending someone to sit in a classroom for too long. Change in technology expands on the number of people who can become interested in the field. The methodology of training using simulation and various other training methods available today—such as virtual reality—will provide the industry with better drivers and more people interested in a career in the field.”
Beyond technology, Kearney urges legislators to consider how current age restrictions limit the industry’s growth. Current laws only permit young adults over the age of 21 to drive a truck over state lines, limiting both driver populations and proactive education efforts. The desire to learn is there, but current laws restrict motivated and qualified students to begin training, leaving high schools with little reason to further pursue efforts in education.
“High schools are not teaching students to drive in a truck. What’s beginning to happen is we are realizing young people are very qualified, they’re very used to working with things like simulation, and we need to allow the young driver to enter into the profession from the time they leave high school, between ages 18-21 once properly trained.”
The trucking industry is sometimes generalized as an exhaustive, demanding and less-than-glamorous profession. It’s time for a refresh of trucking culture to mirror what a career in the industry really looks like, beyond long hours and demanding schedules, according to Kearney.
“The other part of the issue is we must educate young people to think about truck drivers differently. A truck driver today has much more involvement than just being a truck driver. The industry needs to change the name of what truck drivers are to something that better indicates what they do and what they are. The current trucking condo is actually a very nice place to live and travel around the country.”
The first step in creating reliable and effective solutions for the trucking industry begins with expanded training for existing and future drivers and elevation to a professional level. The technology available in today’s markets enable companies across the nation to improve operations and prepare the next generation of drivers for fulfilling careers. The reality is, trucking is not what it used to be both operationally and professionally.
“The driver of today has become a manager of multimillion dollars’ worth of freight, managing the technology with careful compliance to the delivery schedule, serious regulations and changes in the method of operating a $100,000-plus vehicle and the method of driving as it develops. The driver of today can move up in the company they work for. Many drivers will be moving up in the industry from driving a truck.”
Opportunities now exist that weren’t fathomable in previous decades. The challenge now is to overcome antiquated mindsets and operation patterns to boost productivity, driver satisfaction and safety. It’s up to industry leaders to step up and initiate change.