Around 13 million people enter the job market every year. Few find jobs that they want. Narendra Modi came to power promising jobs aplenty through his Make in India campaign. Alas, Labour Bureau data reveals very limited job creation. However, another much neglected area can yield a million jobs per year or more -truck driving.
Many sectors (agriculture, construction, trucking) face an acute shortage of workers, because of their low status and lack of dignity. India also has an acute shortage of quality jobs, leading to job quota agitations by once-dominant rural castes (Patels, Jats, Marathas and Ahoms). Many have useless college degrees and so are rejected by quality employers, yet refuse to do lowstatus jobs.
One solution is to upgrade the status and social attraction of what are considered low-quality jobs to attract more workers. Trucking is an excellent example.
Truck drivers spend 25 days a month away from home, sleeping in their trucks and taking several days for each journey. They are constantly humiliated, abused and exploited by the police and road transport officials, and have to pay bribes at several points per day to survive. Some studies suggest that a quarter of truck drivers do not get married, since their lifestyle greatly reduces their attraction in the marriage market. An even greater proportion suffer from HIVAIDS, contracted from brothels along their driving routes. They have a high injury and death rate from road accidents, and respiratory diseases from polluted air. Many switch to city driving jobs as fast as possible.
The driver shortage means the idling of many trucks, delays and cancellations, and poor truck availability in remoter areas. Small truck companies give drivers 80 litres of diesel to thwart any stealing of fuel while moving cargo from Delhi to Mumbai. Drivers respond by driving at just 45kmhour to minimise fuel consumption, and sell any surplus diesel. Those that don’t get a fast-delivery bonus take long breaks. All this greatly increases delivery times and export competitiveness.
Deepak, Garg, founder of Rivigo, a new-generation logistics company, aims to revolutionise the lifestyle and attraction of becoming a truck driver. Today, he says trucking is the “37th caste“ in a village hierarchy, really low down. Solution: create a system where truck drivers return home every night, like other workers.This will transform their lifestyle, social status and marriage eligibility. Many long-distance trucks have two drivers, taking turns to sleep. Other trucks have only one driver, fighting sleep (often with drugs). Garg has replaced this with a relay system. Each driver drives 4.5 hours to a company pit stop, and hands over to another driver who again drives 4.5 hours to the next pit stop. The relay continues till destination. This cuts delivery time for Delhi-Chennai from 96 hours to 48, and for Bengaluru-Kolkata from 110 hours to 44. This is twice the speed of some courier companies, and maximises truck utilisation.
From a pit stop, each driver catches a truck in the return direction to get home by night. The driver suddenly becomes a normal worker with a full family and community life. He gets a cellphone and good wages by village standards. His truck is air-conditioned, improving comfort and social status.
The relay system promises to make a once-despised occupation respectable and desirable. It can end today’s chronic shortage of drivers, and stop veterans from switching to city driving jobs. Villagers with limited education are being trained both inhouse and in institutes to become skilled, safe drivers. Cellphones and electronic monitors enable managers to monitor every aspect of truck movement and solve problems.
The model looks to become the future of trucking.It can replace today’s mostly unorganised, inefficient trucking with a modern system that delivers goods just in time to factories and consumers, slashing warehousing costs and space.
India’s road network is still very limited, and will increase hugely soon. The imminent Goods and Services Tax will eliminate most checkposts, reduce delays and bribes, and enable the elimination of thousands of statelevel warehouses. A KPMG study in 2010 estimated that a modern transport system could by itself raise India’s GDP by 1-2%.
But in social terms the most important benefit may be the creation of over a million jobs per year carrying good social status and decent pay . `Drive in India’ could become a more powerful job creator than Make in India.