There is a growing urgency for the last-mile delivery space to raise performance levels and meet demanding KPIs, despite the struggle to operate during a protracted independent contractor shortage.

Drivers remain difficult to attract and retain, forcing gig economy companies to pivot in response. Uber's recent foray into the grocery delivery business is a prime example of the scramble to meet the increasing demand.

All the while, memories of last holiday season's botched fulfillment are fresh in the minds of leadership who promised improvements in delivery time. With brand reputation and customer loyalty at stake, in a world where competition is just a click or a swipe away, pressure is mounting to find solutions.

While delivery volume in 2021 won't match peak pandemic levels, it will remain significantly elevated. Indeed, the COVID-related Pandora's box of online purchasing has been opened, and a mass of consumers who were once strictly brick and mortar patrons are now seasoned online shoppers, converted by the convenience of e-commerce.

But if there are 10 times the number of deliveries to be made without 10 times the number of drivers to deliver them, the last-mile delivery system must be rethought to make better use of existing resources.

Blow Up the Silos

Right now, there’s a fleet of gig workers widely dispersed thanks to last-mile delivery, such as consumer goods fulfillment, grocery, and transportation. While this web of drivers exists, it is severely fragmented within the silos of individual companies.

On the ground, these silos are arbitrary. Due to rulings like Prop 22 in California, many delivery drivers remain independent contractors juggling multiple gigs. In DDI’s last survey, 56% of the independent contractor population reported working with three or more different app-based platforms simultaneously.

But if work with each company is walled behind separate applications, it raises the barrier of entry and increases the likelihood that a driver will simply choose a few options where they feel they have the best chance at generating a steady stream of income.

What if we could deconstruct these silos and replace them with a shared pool of drivers across the gig economy? As an economy, we in the last mile need to continue to lean into drivers’ independent status and leverage the last-mile-labor, independent contractor ecosystem. A collaborative web of drivers, free from silos, can quickly scan dozens of available gigs and choose the opportunities they want. This is an imperative approach to creating the nationwide network of accessible 1099-labor.

Rethink Background Checks

Background checks are timely and pricey endeavors, particularly the all-encompassing reports commonly used when hiring last-mile delivery drivers. To tap into the broad pool of delivery drivers, we must streamline the process and adjust background checks to fit the services rendered.

State and local requirements understandably demand higher levels of background vetting for a driver delivering alcohol than for their contemporary delivering fast food. So why subject these to driverpreneurs at the same high-level check?

The scrutiny to which we subject drivers must be representative of the job we are asking them to perform. Turning away a driver who can be cleared to deliver retail simply because they are unable to pass a check to work with prescription medication is a needlessly prohibitive approach, particularly when drivers are in short supply.

The solution is screening done smarter: progressive, customized reports that are proportional to the driver's preferred gig(s). This tailored approach to the background process can streamline driver enrollment and prevent companies from turning away perfectly viable candidates.

Incentivize the Drivers

You found them - now you have to keep them around and happy. Many gig companies are raising delivery compensation and pulling out all the stops to incentivize drivers while maintaining a cost-effective delivery product for the end customer.

Since health and personal transportation are essential for delivery drivers, incentives associated with their well-being and vehicles show care and support for their hard work and determination.

Partnering with a healthcare company to provide affordable coverage and support is an excellent way to attract and retain drivers. For their vehicle, discounts on car insurance, roadside assistance, vehicle certification programs, and vehicle maintenance are incredibly effective motivators.

Offer both financial and personal incentives to encourage becoming a ‘solopreneur,’ like above-minimum wage pay, tax software and vouchers for restaurants, gyms, movies and more.

Aaron Hageman is the CEO of Delivery Drivers, Inc. (DDI), a third-party human resources and driver management firm specializing in the last mile and gig-economy. Aaron has more than 25 years of experience in the rapidly growing gig economy. Under Aaron’s leadership, DDI has been named an Inc. 5000 company nationally and regionally, ranked # 194 in California. DDI was also named a 2021 Business Products & Services Companies to Watch by The Startup Weekly.