Growing driver shortage highlights need for fleet management software

Employment in the trucking industry has caused a variety of problems for ground transportation businesses in recent years, but investing in equipment maintenance software can help fleet owners make the best of the current economic situation.

According to the online publication Truckinginfo, a nationwide driver shortage is nothing new for many small and medium-sized trucking firms. For years, companies have struggled to convince young people to pursue careers that require putting in long hours and taking on significant safety risks. However, recent employment trends may only continue to exacerbate the problem. The website cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that found the average driver currently employed in the industry is 55 or older. This means a large number of individuals are expected to retire within the next 10 years, which may produce a damaging shorter much sooner than originally anticipated. Similarly, new hours-of-service regulations imposed by the federal government have led many companies to now pay their drivers by the hour as opposed to on a salary basis. Such an occurrence may act as a further disincentive for young people who may have otherwise considered taking a job as a truck driver.

Coming up short on vehicle upkeep
One of the most frequently overlooked consequences of an industry-wide driver shortage is its impact on the ability to complete routine maintenance on heavy-duty vehicles. In other words, employees at trucking businesses aren't always necessarily responsible for driving. Many also practice their mechanical expertise by keeping fleets up to par with equipment requirements, periodic upkeep and other important non-driving tasks.

These complex projects often require a high level of technical skill. As a result, a growing shortage of younger drivers means small and medium-sized firms may soon find themselves without the know-how to keep their vehicles running as smoothly as possible. Additionally, advancements in truck technology are improving at a relatively rapid pace. The industry magazine Fleet Owner said without the ability to hire drivers with experience performing maintenance on engines, tires and other mechanical parts, businesses may miss out on opportunities to reduce overhead costs by improving fuel efficiency or by reinforcing overall vehicle safety.

"It's no longer enough just to fix a truck and get it running anymore," Mike Besson, Rush's vice president of dealer operations and customer care, told Fleet Owner. "Today it's all about troubleshooting; about finding the root cause of a particular problem so it doesn't reappear."

Advanced fleet management software can help firms in the trucking industry continue to keep their vehicles in good shape, even during a major shortage of skilled workers. Automated technology makes it easier for business owners to organize, schedule and assign routine maintenance tasks. It can even assist employees who may not necessarily have as much experience performing complicated procedures on trucks.

New trucks are increasingly complex to maintain
Such an integrated approach to fleet upkeep is more important than ever before in today's rapidly changing industry. Fleet Owner said most companies have taken a primarily parts-based approach in the past to keeping their trucks in good operating condition, meaning managers were mostly concerned with simply replacing faulty equipment. However, new trucks are often much more complicated than older models, and firms may need to ultimately have a more holistic view of the maintenance process.

"Trucks today are a giant 'neural network,' a rolling 'cloud' if you will of interconnected systems and information," Besson explained. "That's why I don't like to see the 'part changing' solution for truck repairs. You may be wasting time replacing a perfectly good part that won't be covered by the supplier warranty because that's not where the problem is."

Rather than simply ignoring these evolving trends, businesses may want to consider investing in equipment maintenance software to ensure they are able to meet operational challenges in the future. Even as the trucking industry continues to struggle with the issue of driver shortages, advanced technology can limit many of the potentially negative effects of uncontrollable economic conditions. Vehicle upkeep is a major part of any fleet operation. Managers will ultimately gain a competitive edge over similar organizations by adding to their internal arsenal of tools.