Trucking Is Lifeline to the Nation

Trucking Is Lifeline to the Nation

Do you know anyone who’s a “prepper”?  A prepper could generally be thought of as someone concerned about — and preparing for — any number of possible calamities that might cause shortages of food, water and basic necessities. Even those who are not preppers might stop to consider the extraordinary shelf life of Spam, and how much of it they could fit in the pantry, every time Kim Jong Un pops off a roman candle in our general direction.

You might have similar feelings if you type “What happens if trucks stop?” into your favorite search engine. Go ahead and do it. Those big, lumbering dinosaurs of the interstate haul 70 percent of U.S. freight; more than every other transport mode combined. Trucks haul everything from your smart phones to food to personal items not necessarily discussed in polite company, but whose virtues Madison Avenue amazingly manages to discretely extol.

If trucks stopped, you might “enjoy your go” down the road a little bit more, but you would eventually run out of gas. Unfortunately, your local filling station would be dry because there would be no trucks to resupply it. Within weeks a truck stoppage would even threaten the safety of our drinking water as trucks deliver chemicals used to treat various contaminants. Every product you own, or some component of it, was transported by truck. It is difficult to overstate the importance of trucking to our economy, health, happiness and general well-being.

Nothing important is accomplished with ease. Trucking is a hard, labor intensive, and heavily regulated industry. Trucking managers must supervise a diverse group of indispensable and often irreplaceable drivers who are located hundreds if not thousands of miles away. These managers must ensure drivers are prepared to safely deliver freight to its intended destination. Safety regulations govern every aspect of trucking and managers must possess intimate knowledge of the regulatory structure as well as the processes through which regulations are put in place.

The above highlights two significant, interrelated opportunities presented to the trucking industry: driver turnover and safety. The American Trucking Association reports driver turnover at large trucking companies reached 74 persent in the first quarter of 2017. Few industries have to regularly replace 74 percent of their most essential employees at a cost that may exceed $10,000 each. More importantly, departing drivers are often replaced by those with less experience. Safely operating a commercial motor vehicle requires skill, and experience over time improves competency.

To confront these challenges, Arkansas trucking companies must hire managers trained to retain qualified drivers, understand best practices for safety and comply with safety regulations. Human resource training is necessary to produce trucking managers who understand how to improve driver job satisfaction and subsequent retention. Job satisfaction can be improved through proper reward structures, communication and conflict resolution among other levers. As better trained trucking managers enter the workforce, driver turnover should decrease, which should improve roadway safety.

Arkansas is home to some of the nation’s largest and most successful trucking companies. A prosperous and safe trucking industry is good for everyone — including those of us hoarding Vienna sausages in preparation for the zombie apocalypse.  

Dr. Doug Voss is an Associate Professor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Central Arkansas.  He holds the Scott E. Bennett Arkansas Highway Commission Endowed Chair of Motor Carrier Management and serves on the Arkansas Trucking Association Board of Directors.