Spurred by fast-growing interest in e-commerce shopping, last mile logistics and transportation are flourishing worldwide. Naturally, this is positive for companies operating in transportation and last mile logistics. However, driver shortages make it difficult for many logistic companies to meet growing demand. What can modern IT offer to mitigate this problem?
Driver shortages – a serious challenge for the industry
Transport activities are currently booming in most western countries. A significant portion of this strong growth derives from expanding e-commerce. At the same time, it is a major headache for the industry to attract new drivers to meet demand. Reports continuously affirm that thousands of driver’s seats remain vacant in many countries.
To provide some perspective on the significance of this – several large logistics providers are shifting their prime focus from customers to drivers. A statement commonly heard around the transport industry is “We believe that happy and engaged drivers are prerequisite to scoring top marks in customer satisfaction”.
“Currently, our industry is short 50,000 drivers. And if the trend continues, that number will double to 100,000 in just five years,” said the President and CEO of the American Trucking Association (ATA), Chris Spear, in his State-of-the-Industry address at an annual ATA gathering.
Money is not the main driver…
What are the underlying causes of this occupational unpopularity? Many articles argue that it is not simply a matter of compensation. Rather, the root-cause is associated more with dissatisfaction with working conditions. Negative aspects of drivers’ current conditions include loneliness, monotonous tasks and long periods away from home.
How could modern IT help?
A key point is that that new technology, such as guided workflow tools, provides opportunities to significantly change the scope of the work. Intelligent mobile tools make it possible to remove certain tasks while adding others. Such tools can, for example, help optimize loading, give routing instructions and facilitate communication with both colleagues and addressees. While IT tools take care of these tasks, additional new tasks can be introduced – these could include conducting surveys, reporting and taking doorstep payment. One concrete example is how Posti in Finland has expanded postal delivery employees’ tasks.
One effect of using new IT-technology is that the entry threshold for new drivers could be lowered. In the most extreme case, the minimum requirement could simply be a driver’s license, as the tool could handle the other areas (e.g. using mobile-guided workflows). In a controlled manner, it would also allow driver responsibilities to be extended to include more advanced assignments.
A clear benefit of modern IT tools is improved measurability. This could enable use of instant feedback to show appreciation. Many other uses could be based on statistics and gamification. Perhaps bonuses could be introduced based on environmental driving?
Frequently, increased flexibility is a key requirement. Here, a role-based system could make it easier to quickly shift drivers by decoupling the role from the task. For example, two drivers could unproblematically share the same route, offering them more flexible work schedules.
So, what do we do about loneliness? Could we offer a social media tool? Could this be a kind of spoken Facebook allowing drivers to participate in social dialogues while driving. Maybe this could be combined with unique points of interest on the electronic map, which could be used for social gatherings.
We can also simplify onboarding and competence development by using online training courses. Perhaps drivers can learn more about their vehicles and safe driving. With courses and tools available, industry forums could establish certification programs.