Today’s fleet managers are confronted with multiple challenges, from ongoing driver shortages to complex and oftentimes restrictive state and federal regulations, and that’s just for starters. Add to that the specific concerns of food shippers, and the picture becomes even more complicated.
We checked in with trailer manufacturers, 3PLs, and software and technology providers to get their perspective on the marketplace, and most importantly, find out how they’re helping fleet managers stay competitive and compliant.
There’s a consensus on the top challenges facing the industry as a whole, with the ongoing driver shortage and rising fuel costs among them.
According to Tom Scollard, vice president of dedicated contract carriage, Penske Logistics: “The top two concerns for fleet managers are controlling costs and sourcing quality labor and drivers. Fuel, the increased cost of equipment due to regulations, and increased employee costs continue to put pressure on cost management,” he says.
Meanwhile, “Food shippers have found particular challenges in hiring the right drivers to deliver food products,” says Scollard. “These deliveries are typically labor-intensive with narrowly defined delivery windows. Drivers have multi-stop routes and they’re also many times in a customer-facing position. They operate in areas exposed to the public, such as congested parking lots and shopping malls, on weekends and holidays and odd hours. Oftentimes these stops don’t have docks. The food industry demands fast and frequent deliveries with freshness a big priority and with low levels of inventory.”
Scollard’s comments are shared by others, including 3PLs and transportation providers.
Derek Leathers, president and COO, Werner Enterprises, emphasizes that, “Drivers are the primary focus; the industry is in need of talented professional drivers more than ever, even for the most desirable positions that offer opportunities for drivers to be home on a weekly basis.” In addition, “The limited amount of governmental and third-party funding available for training schools presents challenges that make it more difficult than ever to attract the talent we need in our industry.”
Leathers also mentions the cost of maintaining and updating equipment as a top concern. “The addition of new age emission engines and the required maintenance associated with them has significantly increased costs.”
And that’s not all. “Original equipment manufacturers and engine repair locations are finding it a challenge to train technicians on this new technology, creating less opportunity for repairs, increased downtime and driver frustration,” says Leathers.
To get an idea of how critical the driver shortage has become, Brett Witte, president of Witte Bros., points out that, “Key findings from a 2012 American Trucking Associations (ATA) benchmarking survey of 54 fleets with approximately 140,000 trucks and over 155,000 drivers shows the significant challenges of recruitment, and perhaps more importantly, retention. Fifty-six percent of companies surveyed are considering hiring inexperienced drivers, and 90 percent cannot find enough drivers. These dynamics result in a driver pool that looks very different from days past.”
Witte cautions that, “A truckload turnover rate of 98 percent in the second quarter of 2013 is a strong indicator of the challenges that lie ahead for companies and their fleet managers. It is likely this number will continue to rise as a driver shortage increases.” Although this seems like an uphill climb, he says, “Fleet managers can improve their retention rates and minimize their workload by having clear and consistent communication with the drivers in their fleet. Fleet managers should not underestimate the value of showing gratification to their drivers.”
In addition, executives on the equipment/trailer side of the business offer a distinct view on how new regulations are impacting fleet managers.