Last year, Amazon stopped handling last-mile delivery for third-party sellers that didn’t use its fulfillment centers. Instead, the e-commerce giant decided to focus on improving in-house capabilities for long-haul, middle-mile shipping. Last May, Amazon rolled out its freight brokerage operation throughout the continental United States. It plans to hire 100,000 new employees, including drivers, to support the warehouse and delivery operation.
This is just one example of how the spotlight on last-mile delivery is being redirected to the middle mile — the segment of the distribution journey between the point of origin (manufacturing facility, dock or airport) and distribution center. This puts long-haul shipping companies and rig drivers squarely in the driver’s seat to deliver the needs of the overall supply chain.
Roadblocks on the talent highway
While interest in middle-mile delivery was growing last year, the talent market was grappling with a major roadblock to providing more truckers to support this strategy. Some commercial driver’s license schools reported an upsurge in the number of new students, but these drivers had trouble obtaining their licenses. Many department of motor vehicles offices across the country closed as a public safety measure, and the licensing of new truckers was in limbo. Even as states have slowly reopened, social distancing standards limit the number of applicants that can be processed, as well as the availability of road tests.
Still, the trucking industry is trying a number of strategies to attract, train and employ the 60,000 new drivers it will need in the next 18 months. Enhanced benefits packages, tuition reimbursement for training and increased compensation are a few of the programs designed to entice new drivers.
Using virtual reality to attract a new generation of drivers
However, one key to attracting and retaining the attention of young new recruits is advanced high-tech training for long-haul rigs. This tech-savvy generation that already enjoys computer games and virtual reality (VR) is showing an interest in VR truck-driving simulators.
Simulator training affords student drivers the advantage of experiencing and navigating real-world circumstances — say, swerving to avoid a sudden obstacle — without the real-world consequences. It’s also the only safe way to teach drivers how to handle emergencies that are too rare or dangerous to recreate on the open road, such as a patch of black ice or a blowout on a steering tire.
To be most effective, simulator training should be combined with classroom work and behind-the-wheel training with a qualified instructor. This is especially critical for drivers under the age of 21 because they have not had as much general driving experience as older individuals. A hybrid training program produces safety-conscious drivers who look at the operation of modern rigs as a career path, not just a job.
Patterson High School near Sacramento, Calif., has been testing this training approach. The school was one of the first in the United States to structure a class to train students interested in long-haul rig driving as a career path. Its program combines classroom learning, high-tech simulator experience and behind-the-wheel training. When students complete the course and pass both tests, they earn a class-A commercial driver’s license, which allows them to drive tractor trailers. This concept is growing, and other high schools across the country have begun offering similar programs. This is helping to build a new generation of safe drivers who are prepared to help with the transportation demands of long-haul shipping and e-commerce.
Online apps are another useful tool for helping trucking students prepare for their exams, and there is a growing number of individuals who are comfortable using these apps. This could very well be another trend in e-learning for new truck drivers. No doubt such cutting-edge tools will be key to training the long-haul truckers of tomorrow. Ultimately, these strategies will help fill talent gaps in the distribution industry.
Don’t miss the upcoming free ASCM webinar: Getting Real About Driver Retention – The Culture Shift Needed in the Trucking Industry on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Register today!