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Enhanced driver training and self-driving trucks: Can technology solve the driver shortage?

Transport and logistics companies are in a strange situation. Demand for their services is increasing worldwide thanks to the boom in cross-border e-commerce. At the same time, sourcing the most crucial element of their workforce – namely qualified, reliable drivers – is becoming more difficult.

The reasons for this driver shortage (such as an ageing workforce and possible image problems related to the role) have been discussed again and again. But what about the solutions?

Many transport operators think the answer might lie in technology. This blog looks at two of the most exciting examples – autonomous vehicles and increasingly ‘gamified’ driver training – and considers their possibly impact.

The driverless truck

In a recent TomTom Telematics study, 38% of transport fleet decision makers predicted self-driving trucks would reach mass adoption within the next decade. A further 34% predicted this would happen in the next 11-20 years. Tellingly, only 10% thought it would never happen at all.

Most importantly, the majority of respondents told us they felt self-driving vehicles would, eventually, solve the driver shortage issue.

Yet this view is not shared by everybody in the industry. Speaking recently to Freightwaves, Brian Felkow, president of American transport operator Jetco Delivery, compared the future role of truck driver to the current role of airplane pilot. While much will be automated, he explained, the vehicle will still require a human element to complete its job.

On the flipside, the International Transport Forum believes not only that the self-driving vehicle will solve the driver shortage, but also that it will render many currently employed drivers redundant. It predicts that two million drivers in Europe and America will lose their jobs by 2030 due directly to these innovations.

So, many in the industry are now taking it as fact that, in the near future, driverless commercial vehicles will be commonplace. Yet there’s plenty of debate as to whether or not that will solve this major transport challenge.

Enhanced driver training simulators

One of the big issues facing transport companies is age. As older drivers retire, a new generation of younger drivers is not stepping up to replace them. For whatever reason, the 18-30 workforce is not attracted to trucking.

In an interview with Supply Chain Brain, John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, gave his view. He sees today’s young video gamers as the future of truck driving. And he feels introducing more sophisticated driving simulators and VR elements to the training process will make this career path more attractive to the demographic.

Many trucking companies already use ultra-realistic simulators as part of their driver training, though this has nothing to do with recruiting younger employees. Rather, a sophisticated simulator saves costs and protects all those involved. By allowing trainees to deal with accidents and incidents virtually, vital lessons can be learned without risking damage to the vehicle or the driver.

Could further embracing this technology help bring younger job-seekers back to transport as John Kearney suggests?

Writing in Logistics Viewpoints, Dan Clark thinks so. He says that young job-seekers increasingly look for ‘tech-savvy’ employers and that increasing the role of technologies like VR in the training process is crucial to re-branding transport as a fashionable industry to be part of.

With the driver shortage showing no signs of going away, it’s unsurprising to see fleet operators looking for an innovation that will solve it. Whether autonomous trucks or a more gamified approach to training will be that innovation, only time will tell. However, given the rapid rate of technological change that’s impacting every business sector, it’s a definite possibility that the answer to the driver shortage lies in technology.

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