Can retail make its trucker numbers add up?
The trucking industry has a numbers problem when it comes to drivers. The reality is that there is no quick fix in sight, and the evidence is clear in stores all across the nation.
“In-demand products are sitting idly in warehouses often because there aren’t enough truck drivers to distribute food throughout the country. And that, of course, results in some shortages on store shelves,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, said yesterday at a press briefing on the state of the food industry in 2022.
Ms. Sarasin pointed to American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that there are 80,000 fewer drivers on the road right now to handle deliveries, and that number is expected to get worse, not better.
The ATA estimates that the driver shortage will double to 160,000 in the coming years and the industry will need to add nearly one million new drivers in the next decade to replace those who retire or who leave for other reasons. Demographics are working against the industry. The vast majority of drivers are older and male. Sixty percent of new over-the-road drivers are 40 or older. Only seven percent of all drivers are female.
Recruiting new drivers is no easy task due to the nature of the job. A recent NY Times article pointed to the challenges of a job that is emotionally and physically demanding.
“The lifestyle probably is the first thing that smacks people in the face,” Stephen Graves, a long haul trucker, told the Times. “You know what it does to you. You’re thinking about it all the time. We’re tired. Our bodies are starting to go. Our bladders have been put to the test. And no exercise. We end up with all types of heart and other health ailments. You can’t truly fathom what it’s done to you.”
Retailers and trucking firms have upped pay, offered bonuses and other perks to put drivers behind the wheel, but that hasn’t solved the problem. Automated trucking is seen as a potential answer to the driver shortage but the transition from human drivers to fully automated vehicles is not likely to happen in the short term.
- Driver Shortage Update 2021 – American Trucking Associations
- Supply Chain In Focus: Challenges Facing The Grocery Supply Chain – FMI
- The Real Reason America Doesn’t Have Enough Truck Drivers – The New York Times
- Driving Automation Systems in Long-Haul Trucking and Bus Transit: Preliminary Analysis of Potential Workforce Impacts – U.S. Department of Transportation
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you rank the truck driver shortage among the supply chain challenges facing retailers and consumer brands today? What do you see as shorter term solutions to address the issue?