In preparation for our upcoming think tank on the trucking industry’s looming driver shortage crisis, and how emerging technologies are or aren’t helping, we checked in with one of our favorite former guest speakers here at Tech 2025, Seth Clevenger (Managing Editor of Transport Topics and guest speaker at our event on autonomous trucks last year: Driverless Trucks Will Come Before Driverless Cars – Here’s How They Will Disrupt Everything).
Our upcoming think tank, Trucking Companies are Using Emerging Technologies to Draw Millennials and Women to Truck Driving – Why Isn’t it Working?, seeks to tackle one of the biggest problems in the trucking industry (a massive driver shortage that could have devastating effects on our economy in the next 5 years if 250,000 truck driver jobs aren’t filled by 2025). The idea for this think tank (with guest speaker, Allie Knight, millennial long-haul truck driver) came out of our podcast interview with Seth earlier this year, “Seth Clevenger on How Truck Drivers are Adjusting to Disruptive Technologies,” where Seth and Charlie Oliver explored how the trucking industry might draw millennials to it and how millennials can remake the trucking industry into something that reflects their values and culture more.
Our question to Seth was: “What should we be asking Allie that will give us much-needed insight into how we should tackle this problem in our think tank was this and what might we be missing that you can share with us about this problem?” As always, Seth was very generous in giving us his time and in sharing his expertise. Check out is awesome answer below that put us on the right path. Thank you, Seth! 😎
Seth Clevenger’s Response
First, the driver shortage is a problem across much of the transportation industry, but the problem is most severe for longhaul jobs where drivers are sometimes away from home for days or weeks at a time. That lifestyle just doesn’t seem to appeal to many younger people. It obviously can put a strain on personal relationships and friendships, even though technology and the internet (Skype/FaceTime/social media, etc.) are helping people to stay connected while separated by long distances.
Some trucking fleets are offering driver pay increases, or bonuses for achieving fuel-efficiency goals (driver performance – e.g. speed, hard braking and acceleration, engine idling – is one of the top factors for miles per gallon).
Other fleets are installing in-cab satellite TV systems on their trucks (for use at truck stops, not while the truck is moving!) to improve quality of life for their drivers.
And some are looking at ways to change their operations or routes to offer their drivers more home time.
Better amenities at truck stops also could help. Who wants to eat fast food for every meal? And how clean are the showers?
At the same time, as a society we have been steering our kids toward college and white collar professions. That’s not a bad thing, but it has created a situation where the skills of the workforce at large are not always aligned with the types of jobs that are available. We hear more and more about recent college grads who struggle to land a job, while some good paying “blue collar” vocational jobs go unfilled (truck driving jobs are “exhibit A”).
Over time, automation will be part of the answer. Safety systems could make the job easier, which could expand the pool of potential job candidates. The development of autonomous trucks is making progress, but they will probably be limited to small deployments for quite a while (and limited in scope – perhaps restricted to on-highway driving in certain freight corridors in states that want to be early adopters). Over time, that will keep expanding as the technology proves itself in the field, but my assessment is that automation will only put a dent in the driver shortage, not solve it, for a long time – probably decades.
I’m currently working on a project examining the ways that drivers and autonomous trucks might work in tandem to deliver freight in the years ahead, but it won’t publish until June 11.