For years, industries across the board have been struggling to recruit truck drivers amidst a growing driver shortage. Factors such as an aging driver population, fewer drivers in the pipeline, and an under-representation of women and minorities in the field have made it increasingly difficult to hire and retain reliable drivers.
This is especially true for propane marketers who must also contend with industry regulations (e.g., hazmat training, tanker endorsements, state requirements) that often discourage prospective bobtail drivers from becoming certified.
Now, however, the delivered fuel industry is dealing with a new problem impacting the hiring and retention of drivers: COVID-19.
Is COVID-19 Making the Driver Shortage Worse?
The pandemic has made it even more difficult to attract and retain drivers. Here are some of the leading challenges fuel marketers are facing:
- Couched Drivers: The federal stimulus increased unemployment benefits and “couched” a lot of drivers who discovered they could earn more by staying home than being out on the road. Furthermore, new legislation proposing extending federal unemployment insurance to workers who refuse unsafe working conditions due to COVID-19 could mean drivers may be able to continue collecting unemployment benefits well into the future.
- Licensing Delays: According to a recent article in Transport Topics, “Shutdowns and restrictions at training schools and motor vehicle administrations have slowed efforts to train, test and license truck drivers…and clamped down on the flow of new entrants.” To make matters worse, now that many DMVs are requiring appointments, their booked schedules are causing backlogs for prospective drivers waiting to receive Commercial Drivers Licenses.
- Older Drivers Opting for Early Retirement: “With the average driver age hovering around 50, we’ve seen a lot of drivers opt for early retirement or careers outside of trucking due to COVID-related health concerns,” says Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association in a December article from Talk Business & Politics.
What Does this Mean for Fuel Marketers?
While the supply of drivers has decreased, the COVID pandemic has caused demand for fuel delivery drivers to spike. Increased usage due to more people at home means fuel marketers must find alternative ways to keep up with deliveries. If they don’t they risk run outs and unhappy customers which ultimately result in lost market share.
While attracting additional drivers by offering more competitive salaries and paying for certifications would be great, not many fuel marketers have the resources to do this. Some marketers get around this by paying their existing drivers overtime, or even getting behind the wheel themselves to run a route, but time is money and neither of these options has an impact on the bottom line.
How can Tank Monitoring Help you Conquer the Worsening Driver Shortage?
Tank monitoring can help you be more efficient by avoiding unnecessary deliveries while serving more customers. It can empower your truck drivers to see which tanks need to be filled that day so they can plan their routes and use their time most efficiently. Here are three monitoring strategies that will help you do more with fewer drivers:
1. Increase Capacity of Existing Drivers
Making a trip out to a customer only to drop half a tank or less is a common, and frustrating situation for drivers. It wastes valuable time that they could be using to fill other customers tanks. With tank monitoring, dispatchers and drivers have access to real-time tank levels on their computers and phones so they can make deliveries only when customers actually need them. By using their time more wisely, you can essentially increase the capacity of your existing drivers as much as if you had hired an additional driver. And if you are able to hire that extra driver, it increases your capacity to grow and serve customers tenfold – all while bringing in more revenue for your business.
2. Use a “Lighthouse” Monitor on Routes
While using a monitor on every hard-to-predict account is ideal, it’s not always necessary to deploy hundreds of monitors to help drivers make smarter deliveries. One strategy we’ve seen fuel marketers leverage is to monitor the fastest-burning account on each route, and use that monitor as a flag to deliver to the rest of the customers on the route when the tank level dips below a certain percentage. Marketers typically tag their highest consumption accounts by route, neighborhood, or even usage type (e.g., generators, fill stations, crop dryers, etc.) Not only does this protect against run outs, it also saves drivers from guessing when drops need to be made. When that monitored account’s tank level drops below 20%, you and your driver know that the other accounts on that route aren’t far behind.
3. Stretch the Time in Between Deliveries
Drivers’ days are jam-packed. Sometimes they don’t have time to hit all the accounts on their route, let alone squeeze in a last-minute delivery for a will-call customer. This is when tank monitors come in handy. The real-time data shows drivers and dispatchers if a tank they were scheduled to fill today actually has enough gas to last a few more days. By keeping a close eye on the monitoring data and estimated fill dates, drivers can stretch time between deliveries until they have time, or there are enough call-ins to justify running the route.
Try the Tank Utility Solution and Partnership
When it comes to having fewer drivers, the factor that shouldn’t decrease is efficiency. When your drivers aren’t efficient their morale plummets as they feel burnt out and overworked. Customers become unhappy because propane tanks aren’t filled when they should be, and overall your company wastes time and money. A tank monitoring solution helps your drivers make better drops, resulting in money saved for your business. Using tank monitoring, your company can be more efficient with fewer drivers and still bring in a high return on investment.
If you would like to learn more about the Tank Utility solution and experience a demo with one of our representatives, please get in touch to learn more.