This commentary was written by Aaron Wise of iiX, a provider of motor vehicle records to employers. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

By Aaron Wise

The increasingly digital economy of the past decade — with impacts ranging from consumer demand to supply chains — puts serious pressure on the trucking industry to hire and screen qualified drivers to transport the ever-growing tonnage.

The March 2011 U.S. Truck Tonnage Index was 86.9; by March 2021, it was 105.7. That represents more than 20% growth in goods moving domestically by truck. Even pandemic-related disruptions to supply chains didn’t come close to erasing the 10-year surge. In fact, COVID-19 lockdowns added to the jump in online consumer purchases, amplifying the need for drivers.

But what’s changed is more than just the volume of freight. The way it moves is also different. Online shopping brings more demand for last-mile trucking that delivers goods not just to retail outlets, but directly to the consumer’s door. This final step is time-consuming and expensive, but it’s foundational to the levels of customer satisfaction many shippers strive to achieve.

Much last-mile delivery occurs in smaller vehicles running shorter routes with operators who aren’t required to have a commercial driver’s license. Driver screening, therefore, may require more tools and additional or alternative metrics.

The last-mile job shouldn’t be considered easier, just different; these drivers often face more variable driving scenarios, including:

— Unpredictable traffic encountered in dense urban and suburban environments.

— Bicyclists and pedestrians, who are more prevalent on the local surface streets where last-mile drivers tend to operate.

— Moving and delivering freight alone — and generally interacting more with the items in transit, which can increase workers’ compensation risk.

That final aspect may include assembling or installing the customer’s purchase — a level of consumer interaction that hasn’t been typically associated with delivery services other than major appliances and household furnishings.

With less narrowly defined qualifications and the chance for a more conventional home-based lifestyle, these jobs appeal to a broad range of potential hires. That may expand the available labor pool, but it’s not the same kind of fleet and workforce as long-haul trucking with larger tractors and trailers.

And despite the broader field of possible candidates, competition can be fierce for the best hires. These applicants may have multiple companies seeking their services, and employers that can move quickly could have the advantage.

With different driving and working scenarios and the absence of CDL requirements necessary for other types of commercial driving, companies need agility in properly identifying and screening driver applicants. Finding operators with clean driving records and quality experience typically requires several standard reports:

— MVRs (motor vehicle reports) encompass the driver’s history of accidents, moving violations and driving under the influence, whether operating commercial or personal vehicles.

— Where applicable, CDLIS (Commercial Driver’s License Information System searches) and DOT employment verification provide critical background information.

Where CDLIS searches are less relevant, there may be an increasing need for additional education, employment and background verifications to ensure that a potential driver is experienced and capable during the unpredictable last mile. With these insights in hand, shippers can be better positioned to meet a fast-growing need.

The biggest challenge in driver screening can be putting it all together. While the array of reports is valuable, they come from multiple jurisdictions and levels of government — county, state or federal — with uncertain levels of coordination among them. How can a company obtain the information needed to hire drivers for the last mile with speed and efficiency?

Some companies are turning to digital systems that deliver reports from different sources in tandem. These systems can support not just fast, confident hiring, but also the ongoing monitoring of employees throughout their tenure. That monitoring is important, especially due to the inconsistent driving conditions many last-mile drivers may encounter.

Ultimately, with today’s growing delivery economy, and rising consumer expectations, one thing’s for certain: The job isn’t complete until the last mile is covered.

About the author

Aaron Wise has been with iiX since May 2015 after spending 12 years in the risk management business helping companies with driving risk to reduce liability and manage costs.

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