How HR Tech Can Help Combat Talent Shortages

By: | March 4, 2019 • 4 min read
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®, which is taking place Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2021, in Las Vegas. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

The claim “Every company is a technology company” has been widely shared over the years, so much so that, along with another popular business maxim—“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”—it has come to be almost universally accepted as truth. And while I have been on the record (for years) as having an issue with the “culture” chestnut, I do believe that every company truly is a tech company at some level. Technology has become so essential to businesses of all sizes and industries that success with technology often equates to competitive success. And what is true for business is also true, I think, for HR. If every company is a technology company, then I’d argue that every HR organization is also a tech organization. Success in HR is going to be increasingly determined by success with HR tech.

With a decade-long economic recovery in the U.S., and a labor market largely marked by increasingly open jobs (at or near an all-time record high), difficulty filling those jobs and, more recently, the phenomenon of employee or candidate ghosting, HR leaders have to be more innovative than ever to help their organizations compete to find and retain talent. And if we believe that technology can play an important role in this effort, I think it’s important to look for examples where this combination of HR and HR tech is making a difference. I want to share one example where this is happening, in an industry beset with all kinds of tough HR and talent challenges: the U.S. commercial-trucking industry.

The Challenge Facing the Trucking Industry (and Maybe Yours, Too)

According to estimates from the American Trucking Association, the industry is on pace to have a truck-driver shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2026. In addition, the industry needs to hire up to 900,000 drivers in the next 10 years to replace drivers leaving the trucking industry, mostly through retirements.

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Hiring in the trucking industry has always been tough. The jobs are difficult and require significant training for drivers to qualify for the required CDL license and remain certified. Often, commercial drivers are away from home for days, even weeks, at a time. Drivers are also subject to numerous physical and health risks from the job, including long stretches of sedentary driving, interspersed with elements of physical work to secure loads and perform emergency maintenance and repairs on their vehicles. Then add in one more element: The job itself has increasingly been portrayed in the media as one that has a high likelihood of being disrupted by technology. Self-driving trucks are in active development and testing, and some experts believe we will see wide deployment of self-driving trucks even sooner than self-driving personal vehicles.

In a way, there is a perfect storm of issues that makes the challenge of hiring and retaining commercial-truck drivers such a difficult one for HR leaders. Among them are fewer entrants to the field due to its tough working environment and traditionally low compensation, increased attention and regulation from national and local regulators, and the looming threat of automation making current and prospective drivers reticent about truck driving as a career.

How HR and HR Technology are Driving Better Outcomes

Recently, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies based on total revenues, U.S. Xpress, facing the types of hiring and retention challenges described above, made some significant investments in and changes to its driver-training programs.

The company updated its approach and delivery to driver training and infused more modern technologies into every step of the process. It has also relied on input and feedback from its 8,000 truck drivers in the design and re-launch of the training program, along with implementing new forms of training technologies.

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