As I am in and out of concrete producers’ offices, I hear about common pain points plaguing the industry. There are certain challenges producers face regardless of their location or size of operations. Across the board, it’s clear that technology can offer a fresh approach to stubborn problems.
The most common complaint right now is, “There just aren’t enough qualified ready-mix drivers.” Just recently, a senior executive told me excitedly about winning a million-dollar job. In the next breath he admitted he wasn’t entirely sure how his company would truck the job. Technology cannot entirely solve this issue. However, with some strategic thinking, today’s high-tech tools can reduce the impact of a driver shortage on your operations. Following are a few ideas.
Ensure drivers are working efficiently. Recovering even a few minutes of lost time in each driver’s day is more economical than throwing more drivers and trucks into the mix. With automated timecards, the time between driver clock-in and first load can be capped at an acceptable level. Some producers require drivers to clock-in at the truck, and allow 15 or 20 minutes for precheck before the day’s first load. They are recovering 15 to 45 minutes per driver, per day. The same applies to the time between drivers’ last load and clock-out. GPS tracking systems in trucks can also help ensure that to-job and return-job times are reasonably matched.
Use drivers’ time wisely. Does everyone really need their concrete at 6 a.m.? There are ways to relieve the pressure of trying to staff up for peak demand day after day. Some producers are exploring an “airline” model of dispatch, in which customer pricing is lower during off-peak hours. By capturing accurate data about commonly high- and low-volume times of day, dispatchers can smooth the peaks and valleys of customer demand, and drivers can maintain more realistic schedules. Investing in a dispatch system that provides a predictive model of volumes also gives dispatchers better visibility to plan ahead for the needs of different types of jobs. For example, trucks can be dispatched to jobs with faster turnaround times in the morning, and longer-running pours, such as walls or columns, later in the day.
Make drivers’ jobs easier, not more dangerous. More and more technologies are making their way into truck cabs. A ready-mix driver may have several screens to monitor, in addition to a tablet with work-related software programs. At the same time, safety must come first, and it’s critical to avoid driver distractions. Producers must find the right balance between giving drivers helpful tools and overwhelming them with technology. Many tech providers want to introduce their own hardware into the truck, so it’s important to find those willing to make their technology available on a common device. The future of technology for concrete dispatch and delivery will depend on integration, and keeping the number of screens to a minimum.
Tap into online networks. Today’s workforce is more likely to look for a job online than in a newspaper. Many concrete producers take advantage of low-cost or free outreach via the internet. Try staging a virtual “job fair” on your company website or via social media can not only reach more potential candidates outside of your immediate area, but also directly convey your company culture and benefits. Connect with web-based marketplaces that match full- and part-time drivers with work based on specific parameters, such as location, hours, and pay. Look for talent in different industries, such as farming. Local high schools with 4-H or FFA programs can be a goldmine of eligible drivers.