Can retail make its trucker numbers add up?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/djedzura
Feb 11, 2022

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.

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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The trucker shortage is just one more factor in the supply chain perfect storm. Honestly, would you want to be a long-haul trucker?"
"The trucking industry is ripe for disruption, and creative entrepreneurs are intently strategizing as we speak."
"Between shortages and protests, look for larger corporations to move more quickly towards autonomous vehicles. Capitalism 101."

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13 Comments on "Can retail make its trucker numbers add up?"


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Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Between shortages and protests, look for larger corporations to move more quickly towards autonomous vehicles. Capitalism 101.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Is there a shortage of actual qualified truckers or is there a shortage of truckers who are willing to work given the pay, and especially the conditions, of the job? I suspect that it is the latter, which suggests that the industry needs to step up to the plate and improve things if it wants to employ and retain talent. I think some things have been done, but a lot more change is clearly needed to solve this issue.

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

The trucker shortage is just one more factor in the supply chain perfect storm. Honestly, would you want to be a long-haul trucker?

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

There are plenty of reasons people choose to become long-haul truckers. Many own their own business and control their own schedule, travel, vacation, etc. Those who work for companies enjoy good pay and benefits. Most of the long-haul truck cab interiors are nicer than hotel rooms. Different strokes for different folks.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Driver shortage is critical. The obvious solution is money and lifestyle. It won’t happen.

The New York Times article describes it well. The turnover in the industry is 95 percent. The cause can be traced to three factors. Deregulation of the industry in the 1970s, the weakening of the trucker unions and the trend to replace rail with trucking since the 1960s.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Short of higher wages, more shipments by rail, and self driving trucks, the delivery of goods will remain a significant challenge.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Are we suffering from the incredible overstatements around self-driving trucks? Given the lead articles about trucking, it’s not a career I’d recommend to anyone at this point. Yet overall society needs truckers as much, or more, as it ever has.

Perhaps we can pull back from what has proven to be outrageous overstatement and refocus on reality. Damage like this is one of the constant risks from tech – loving to “disrupt” they forget that destruction is not a goal. Creation is the goal and to destroy in society before creating is irresponsible.

David Spear
BrainTrust

The trucking industry is ripe for disruption, and creative entrepreneurs are intently strategizing as we speak. All options are on the table to figure this out, and we’re starting to see some interesting new ideas brought to the market from academic institutions creating new driver apprentice programs to new comp/benefit packages to reduced mileage hauls. If, in fact, ATA’s research is correct and we get to a shortage of 160,000 drivers, then we’re in for a much longer supply chain fiasco than we all would have predicted.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s not just retail that is suffering from a lack of truck drivers, other industries are as well. I think we are at a turning point where we have to start looking more closely at what we can do to make workers happy and spend money there. The big bucks C-level executives make rely on the workers who make business happen; focus on how and where salaries and benefits are distributed need an update.

Lucille DeHart
BrainTrust

Who could have seen this coming! Obviously there is a shortage. Mandates, shutdowns, regulations and the overall quality of the job have been building the last 2+ years. Amazon insulated itself by building their own distribution network (blue vans everywhere). The rest of the world needs to be reinvented. Maybe this is a good thing. Trucking companies should re-evaluate their overall culture and structure. Do drivers have to be on the road for weeks on end? Is there a better logistics schedule for them, perhaps more on-demand services or paid college after a few years of service? I don’t see short term solutions here as we need more drivers than we have and the infrastructure for alternative methods does not currently exist. This could be the wake-up call needed.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Two plus years? How about more than a decade?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all driver shortages have been a significant problem since at least the 1980s. Why? Because it’s a pretty thankless job. Hours are long, pay divided by those hours is low since truckers aren’t compensated for down time, working conditions are abominable, and the job is, relatively, dangerous. Gee, wonder why folks aren’t rushing to jump into those cabs? You want to solve the driver shortage? Pay more, compensate for downtime and deadheading, make sure service areas are cleaner and healthier, pay for motels instead of asking people to sleep in their cabs, figure better work/life balance issues solutions, etc. In other words make it worth it and more people will want to drive.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

First of all, I rank the shortage of qualified drivers as the largest issue. I’ve talked with a lot of drivers lately, and the word FATIGUE rises in every conversation. I agree with Neil in that the economics of accumulating drivers has to be elevated: and that can come via financial partnerships of retail companies and trucking companies. It’s very possible: remember, retail companies have purchased ships to get their products into ports sooner.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Truck driver shortages have been and will continue to be a significant problem. What is the relationship with supply chain shortages? That is a complex issue. However, if there were enough drivers there would still be a supply chin issue because the software and hardware is not in place for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to know where their inventory is at all times. How can the process be managed effectively if you don’t know where the inventory is?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The trucker shortage is just one more factor in the supply chain perfect storm. Honestly, would you want to be a long-haul trucker?"
"The trucking industry is ripe for disruption, and creative entrepreneurs are intently strategizing as we speak."
"Between shortages and protests, look for larger corporations to move more quickly towards autonomous vehicles. Capitalism 101."

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