Conference season is in full swing this fall as the trucking industry welcomes the return of in-person events. All eyes were on Dallas this week as trucking leaders convened for Tank Truck Week (TTW).
Hosted by the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), the conference is North America’s largest tank truck event, with a full-slate of industry-focused seminars, workshops and networking opportunities.
Reliance Partners’ vice president of safety, Brian Runnels, recapped the four-day event with Timothy Dooner and Michael Vincent on FreightWaves’ WHAT THE TRUCK?!? program.
At the forefront of everyone’s minds at this year’s conference was driver retention. In a series of workforce development meetings, Runnels said NTTC’s members were interested in finding ways to preserve and strengthen the sector’s driver base for future sustainability. One suggestion is to start apprenticeship programs to ensure younger drivers are trained uniformly across the board.
Driver shortages have befallen the tank truck sector like many other areas of trucking, but Runnels said that its problems have been exacerbated due to the barriers of entry involved in hauling hazardous chemicals. This niche sector of trucking requires a great deal of training, hands-on experience and a hazmat endorsement attained before one can get behind the wheel.
“Without trucking, America stops — that’s 100% true, but if the tanker side of the industry shuts down, then America stops a heck of a lot faster,” Runnels told FreightWaves.
Demand for gasoline and fuel hit rock bottom last year amid coronavirus travel restrictions and work-from-home arrangements, but 2021 has been a different story. Americans, gradually regaining their pre-pandemic freedoms, are gaining more and more confidence to travel and congregate within their communities, which has greatly increased the country’s energy needs.
Ed Longanecker, president of The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, said the oil and natural gas industry has experienced consistent growth in employment and jobs postings in 2021 as economic conditions and global demand improve, FreightWaves reported in September.
Despite this, petroleum and liquid tankers have seen an almost 42% reduction in qualified driver applicants since 2019, according to NTTC, which further estimates that between 20% and 25% of all tanker trucks are not currently being utilized because of a lack of qualified drivers.
Runnels, making a case for drivers to enter the tanker sector, argued that its drivers can in some cases make more than your typical over-the-road gig due to the highly skilled nature of the job and a lower turnover rate.
“There’s a lot of daily jobs in the tank world, specifically on the petroleum side, because so many of them deliver to the convenience stores and truck stops, so there are a lot of opportunities on the tank side to be home every night. That’s a huge benefit,” Runnels said.
Driver development was the most visible issue discussed during Tank Truck Week, but the industry’s invisible challenges were also highlighted.
A major concern for the energy sector as a whole has been cybersecurity in response to the cyberattack that crippled Colonial Pipeline this summer. Runnels made note of the apparent cyberattack on Wisconsin-based truckload carrier Marten Transport as evidence that the entire trucking industry remains a target to hackers.
Human trafficking was also a major talking point in Dallas. This $32 billion global epidemic hides in plain sight and operates closer to home than one might think.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a nonprofit organization that relies on the eyes and ears of its vast volunteer network of professional truck and bus drivers to spot and report potential trafficking, held a session to educate the tanker sector on how to recognize possible human trafficking situations.
“It’s gaining more and more steam industrywide,” Runnels said of TAT’s support. He added that it’s helping drivers learn of the many techniques to identify and report suspicious behavior and even supplies truckers with materials such as window decals and posters with hotlines listed to aid victims without raising alarms.
“Having this knowledge that’s out there now versus what we knew back then is a huge advantage for drivers to help get these folks back home.”
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