How Technology Can Help Combat Talent Shortages

By: | March 4, 2019 • 4 min read
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and is a co-chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at [email protected]

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.

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.

The formerly classroom-based training program is now self-paced and available online. Prospective drivers are guided through more than 30 videos to engage and become familiar with upwards of 200 commercial-vehicle learning topics. Additionally, the company took technology even further in its revised driver-training program. At U.S. Xpress’ new training facility in Georgia, there’s a new virtual-reality simulation program for truck drivers before they get behind the wheel. U.S. Xpress is the largest carrier yet to use such technology. Finally, the candidates put what they learned from the instructional videos and the VR simulator to test out on the company driving-practice course. All of this is designed to better engage and prepare these drivers for a demanding job, while HR leaders see the benefit to engagement and retention by equipping drivers with the tools and experiences they need to succeed. A real overall win for HR, the drivers and the company.

It Can’t Be Just HR or Just HR Technology—You Need Both

Even the best HR technologies will not drive change or produce meaningful results when considered in a vacuum. While U.S. Express’ integration of modern VR technologies into its training programs is a great example of how modern HR and workplace tech can be effectively implemented, the company will likely have to employ other, more traditional HR approaches to address recruiting and retention challenges. Walmart, for example, has recently adapted (essentially loosened) its initial driver-candidate-screening-test process to get more candidates advanced in the recruiting funnel, as well as announced salary increases and benefits improvements for its truck drivers. Increasing wages and improving benefits are as traditional as a company can get when attempting to increase hiring effectiveness and reduce unwanted turnover. The real solution probably lies in a creative, thoughtful and comprehensive combination of both approaches—applying modern tools and technologies to improve the employee experience at work as well as offering enhanced basic elements of the overall employer-value proposition. This will be the way for HR leaders to position their company as a preferred employer in a tight market.

The combination of progressive HR policies and programs with modern HR and workplace-technology solutions, as evidenced in the virtual-reality training for prospective truck drivers’ case above is a perfect example of the best kind of collaboration between HR and tech. These are the kinds of examples that we plan to showcase across a wide range of HR and talent challenges at the HR Technology Conference Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 in Las Vegas. There you will be able to learn more from a full range of progressive HR leaders and innovative technology and service providers on how this combination/partnership of HR and HR tech can help your organization meet its most pressing business and talent challenges.