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ATA Conference Recap: 4 Insights on the State of Trucking

ATA conferenceJOHN SIMMS
HNI V.P. Risk – Business Solutions

As I reflect on another successful American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition — which took place last week in sunny, humid Orlando, Florida (too bad for those freezing in other parts of the U.S.) — there were many takeaways from this conference. Here are my top four:

1. Where Did All the Drivers Go?

If there was a common conversation anywhere at this conference, it was: We need drivers, and we need them yesterday. It did not matter what segment of trucking you were talking about. Everyone is having a hard time finding qualified drivers. While many fleets have already raised pay to attract drivers, the demand greatly outweighs the supply. One area of concern is that many fleets are beginning to hire directly out of school with no formal or test training program in place. According to Bob Costello, chief economist for ATA, the industry needs an average of 96,000 new drivers annually to enter the industry to keep place with the demand.

2. Regulation Nation is Killing This Industry!

Roughly three months after the new Hours of Service regulations have been in place, just about everyone we talked with or heard from on expert panels has concluded that these new regulations are driving away experienced drivers by the droves. According to one industry executive during a panel discussion: “It absolutely will negatively impact our driver wages and productivity at a time when we can least afford it. It absolutely limits driver flexibility at a time when we can least afford to make the job more restrictive.” Stay tuned as MAP-21 will help usher in more regulations that could have a negative impact on truck safety!

3. Star Wars Meets Trucking!

As you took a walk through the massive and impressive exhibit hall, you could not help but notice there is an application, gadget, or program that will do just about everything but drive the truck! Technology has exploded in this industry, with new vendors creating safety-related or data-mining technology and forcing established tech vendors to get more creative and to create alliances with next-generation suppliers. The good news is that with competition, services and product get better and pricing gets more competitive. The downside is searching for someone to manage all this new technology and data. For instance, who is going to protect your company and this data in the event of a crash? (Can you see another blog in your future?)

4. Who’s Going to Run My Company in the Future?

If one could get past all the glitz and glimmer of the conference, the one question that kept coming up is: Where will the next generation of trucking executives come from? No one in the room (including myself) is getting any younger. A common conversation heard in drinking holes included talk about how since the last recession, too much intellectual capital has left the industry — and they are not coming back as in the past. The bottom line is that the image of this industry still is not the best (and another image campaign is on the way). The younger generation is not being seduced into trucking by its long hours, weekend work, and relatively low pay when compared to Google or Microsoft careers.

Today, I am back home in the frozen tundra still thinking about those sunny, warm days in Orlando. The conference held a lot of promise, but there are issues that will need to be overcome going forward. Good day!

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Photo by Neil Thompson via Flickr

Topics: Transportation