By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics

The global supply chain is commonly built on the concept of supply and demand. When an item is in high supply, the demand decreases. Conversely, when an item is in high demand, the supply decreases.

But problems with global supply chains have become eerily prevalent in recent months. Supply chain problems have led to product shortages, which have subsequently increased the demand for many items, such as produce, meat, appliances, electronics, seasonal items and specialty products.

Due to supply chain problems, delivery dates for some products have been extended as much as six to eight weeks. These delays are a deep concern for manufacturers and retailers for the 2021 holiday season, when most businesses have a large percentage of their sales.

An increased demand for products has also placed an increased demand on delivering items in a timely manner, and the resulting costs are passed on to the consumer. However, a shortage of drivers around the world has only exacerbated supply chain problems.

Why Are There Truck Driver Shortages?

There are multiple reasons why there are truck driver shortages. First, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major factor in driver shortages, both nationally and internationally. Most trucks require their drivers to have a certain Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Most CDL training sessions last from four to six weeks.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines have caused a significant certification backlog. Most training centers were in-person, so virtual training for truck drivers had to be created. In addition, the CDL test needed an instructor and tester in the same cabin, which presented a safety hazard for both people.

Second, the licensing process has its own complexities. In some states, the CDL exam is only available in English, which limits the possibility of hiring candidates who speak and write English as a secondary language.

Furthermore, there are multiple classes for the CDL based on the weight the truck will move. Each CDL class (A, B, or C) requires its own certification, which also prolongs the approval process.

Third, there has been a decrease in qualified truckers. At the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses shut down. The demand for goods decreased, and fewer drivers were needed.

Some drivers opted to pursue other careers or retire, which caused a shortage of drivers when operations returned to normal. As a result, shipping companies have had to incentivize new hires with signing bonuses, flexible hours and shorter routes.

Trucking affects every aspect of the U.S. economy. In every type of U.S. export or import, truckers are needed to deliver products to customers.

Global Truck Driver Shortages

The truck driver shortage challenge is not limited to the United States, either. In the United Kingdom, for instance, there is a driver shortage of 76,000 people. For U.K. residents, this shortage has resulted in long gas lines, empty shelves and delayed delivery times.

According to America Online (AOL), Brexit was one of the key reasons for the current shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. Post-Brexit trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have slowed down the logistics chain, and the result is that trucks are moving fewer products to end users.

Changes in the Perception of Truck Drivers

On the local, national, and global scale, truck drivers are an aging workforce, and little is being done to incentivize the next generation of drivers. The driving industry is overwhelmingly male, and there are few accommodations for individuals with a physical or developmental disability.

Also, professional truckers often do not have the respect they deserve, and there is little career progression for a driver. Other than some perks for preferred routes, health insurance and overtime, there are few ways to move up the career ladder in the trucking industry.

Another challenge is that truckers are paid lower than other blue-collar jobs. The median salary for a trucker is $34,340 per year, which is lower than other fields.

Compare this salary to the average annual salary of an Uber driver, which is $36,702, and you can see the challenge with recruiting and retaining talented, qualified truckers.

Creative Solutions to Address Truck Driver Shortages

Supply chain managers have opted for creative solutions to address the driver shortage. One solution was to use fewer human drivers and encourage more autonomous vehicles in the form of driverless trucks. Driverless trucks address both safety concerns by not mandating long stretches of human driving and environmental concerns by creating more fuel-efficient vehicles.

A second solution was the use of three-dimensional printing to create products and dramatically decrease the need to ship items such as drones, candy, bikes, and tactile maps. This strategy can save companies that purchase the same items on a routine basis a considerable amount of time and money.

The third solution was to encourage the use of drone delivery. Drones can carry up to hundreds of pounds to hundreds of pounds and travel up to a few hundred miles to deliver a product. Drones can save companies time, energy and fuel, especially for delivering products to destinations that are geographically challenging for traditional truck drivers.

A fourth solution was to encourage businesses to use local products, rather than shipping them in from overseas. One of the main reasons why goods are imported are the lower costs; however, shipping delays created new fees that are passed to consumers. The recent backlog of container ships in the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. ports have severely delayed imports and exports from arriving at their destination in a timely manner.

Retailers should shift their focus from stocking on a seasonal basis to stocking items year-round. Many retailers do not have the capacity to stock seasonal items year-round, especially for perishable items. However, keeping a small quantity of seasonal items may be a short-term solution to the long-term supply chain challenge.

Supply chain challenges are expected to persist for some items well into 2022. Therefore, it’s important to think strategically and develop creative alternatives to truck driver shortages.

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