When reflecting on 2022, a year that included a few months of pregnancy, the birth of my first child, and seven months of watching him grow from a newborn to a small toddler scooting around the house (and every phase in between) — my growing family is obviously the defining theme.
The winds of change, however, were a major force we all had to reckon with last year in our businesses, in our relationships with vendors and customers, in managing our employees, in navigating a new uncertain economic cycle, and in continuing to evolve driver compensation plans to meet hiring and retention goals.
2023 begins in a much different place than 2022, as do our businesses and our respective professional goals.
In this month’s From Leah’s Desk, I’m offering a few reflections on the past year and the one that awaits, as well a few resources for you and your team to leverage in the year ahead. While the year is dragging with it some uncertainty from the onset, I also hope it’s filled with happiness, health, and prosperity for you and your team.
Gratitude for being an extension of your fleet
Whether the trucking market is red hot and driver recruiting demands are sky high — or if your team’s focusing on retention goals and strategies in tamer markets — NTI acts as an extension of the companies we serve and support, both with our data and our consulting work. That’s why we show up to work every day, and it’s a role we’re proud and humbled to have.
One of the greatest privileges of my career is working closely with leaders at some of the most influential and innovative fleets operating on our roads today. The hours spent each year over lunch, in video conferences, in boardrooms, and at industry events hearing what’s on your mind, sharing our struggles and our triumphs, and working together to navigate the hurdles ahead — those are the hours that inspire me and that stick in my memory throughout the entire year. Then months and years later, seeing those conversations lead to evolutions internally at motor carriers and private fleets and in the lives of professional drivers creates real meaning to the work we all do.
A foundational aspect of those structural changes has been seeing fleets evolve their driver hiring and retention programs to focus more on location-based hiring and retention, and NTI has built a suite of surveys to help your fleet dial in compensation and retention programs in every market you operate. We look forward to continuing that work in 2023.
Through changing economic tides, employment challenges persist
Trucking always exists in cycles, and 2022 certainly brought a change of seasons for many motor carriers. Slowing economic growth due in large part to rising interest rates meant to tame inflation, combined with climbing diesel costs in the spring and summer and a rebalancing of freight demand and trucking capacity in recent quarters, has sent trucking out of a momentous upswing and into something different.
How this new cycle ultimately plays out is still unclear, and the first few months of 2023 will provide more clarity of where we are and where we’re going.
One of the takeaways we’ve been stressing at NTI during this period of change is that, despite slowing economic growth, the record-tight employment landscape has endured — and will likely endure even through a recession, should one materialize this year. Fleets are still facing immense competition for available workers both internally against their trucking peers and externally against other industries. The unemployment rate is still near record lows, and job openings remain near record highs.
We talked to two top labor market economists this fall to hear their take on what carriers and private fleets can expect in the year(s) ahead. Catch recaps of our conversations with Glassdoor Chief Economist Aaron Terrazas here and with ZipRecruiter Chief Economist Julia Pollak here.
As I also outlined in September, now’s not the time for motor carriers or private fleets to pull back on their recruiting and retention goals. Challenges in hiring and retaining the right people have been one of the predominant themes the past few years, and success in these areas will remain critical — through any economic downturn and into the next upcycle. You can read my thoughts in full on this subject at this link.
Welcome to the NTI Portal
Introduced at the beginning of 2022, the NTI Subscriber Portal gives motor carriers and private fleets access to driver wages data and benchmarking tools on a deeper, more actionable level by using Power BI analytics, graphics, and comparisons that help fleets understand their position in the market and make the right decisions for their company at the right time. The Portal makes NTI’s data and reports available to subscribers on-demand 24/7/365.
We’re not stopping there, though. In 2023, we’ll continue to add new features, surveys, and tools to the Portal to make it even more valuable and useful to our subscribers. If you have any questions about the Portal, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Meet the NTI twins (and a few notes on paid family leave)
As I mentioned, my family welcomed a new baby boy last year, but the NTI team actually welcomed two new babies within a 10-day span last spring. Kelli Kral, who many of you know heads our customer service team and who you talk with regularly, welcomed a new addition to her family, too. We call them the NTI twins, and watching them grow and develop alongside each other has added a new layer of meaning to our business and our work.
It also prompted a change of policy at NTI. As an employee enrichment offering, to continue to promote greater work-life balance and to support the goals of our people and their families, we’re now offering fully paid parental leave for however long is needed after the birth or adoption of a child.
That’s also a recommendation we now urge fleets to consider in their own employee programs. Trucking has the chance to be a leader among industries in offering paid leave to parents of new children (or when other family needs arise), for both men and women. Drivers and their families feel the absence of paid family leave programs, and it often stings for them to be away during the most important moments for themselves and their families. That’s especially pronounced for younger drivers. The average age of the professional driver in our industry hasn’t budged from 54 years old, and this is one of the barriers that keep younger people and women from joining our industry. Consider working with your fleet’s leadership and HR teams to evaluate how to enhance this benefit at your fleet.
Employee appreciation moments
Also, another highlight of 2022: Gathering the U.S.-based NTI team in Minnesota for a retreat on the lake. The days spent boating, fishing, building campfires, and eating home-cooked meals together with our employees and their families were some of the most special days and evenings of the year. In this blog post in September, we also outlined 10 ways your fleet can show appreciation to drivers year around with similar events and benefits programs.
Next Generation in Trucking rises to the moment
One of the most compelling trucking stories of 2022 was the momentum that Next Generation in Trucking Association built and carried through the year. Founded by Lindsey Trent and Dave Dein, NGT is working nationwide to develop and install CDL training programs and trucking curriculum in high schools and community colleges to engage with and attract younger people to our industry. NTI talked with Trent last year about the program and how fleets can get involved — read that blog post here.
NGT has already begun the process of establishing trucking programs at nearly 80 high schools around the country, and they’re just getting started. As a non-profit, the group relies on support of members and sponsors to carry out its mission. So, consider how you can support this vital organization in our industry as they work to make trucking a first-choice career for high school students and young adults.
Women in Trucking soars to new heights
I concluded three consecutive terms, the maximum, at the Board of Directors at the Women in Trucking Association in March 2022. As I wrote in a blog post then, serving that amazing organization and helping promote trucking as a fantastic career for women is one of the highlights of my 20-plus years in the trucking industry.
I maintain my membership, obviously, and watching the group in 2022 from afar continue to grow and thrive has been special. There were over 1,700 attendees at WIT’s Accelerate Conference in November — by far the biggest conference in WIT’s history. Congratulations to my friends and colleagues at WIT for carrying on the important work of removing obstacles for women in our industry and building such an admirable, impactful organization.
If you’re looking for some new year listening…
I spent dozens of hours behind the mic in 2022 talking with your professional drivers on SiriusXM’s Road Dog Trucking Radio both in my monthly Payday show on Road Dog Live and as a guest host during special episodes.
In 2023, a renewed focus on making trucking a rewarding and secure career choice
Trucking companies large and small have reported that the pressure on driver hiring has eased some, and they’re enjoying more success in meeting their hiring needs. However, turnover remains high. So it’s my sincere hope that, in 2023, we as an industry do not lose sight of the importance of retention programs and simply rely on an easier hiring environment to keep trucks seated.
Rather, let’s continue to focus on improved retention programs, compensation, productivity for our drivers, and above all, providing a safe, rewarding, and secure career for the drivers who choose to be with us.
Thank you for taking the time to read these new year reflections, and I wish you, your family, and your team a happy, productive, healthy, and prosperous year ahead. Until next time, be safe and well, ~Leah