Chaos at the Ports: No Trucks in Sight

You have probably noticed a shortage of your favorite items in the grocery stores these days, and although there are many reasons that the broken supply chain is causing empty store shelves, the most far-reaching reason is that there are not enough truck drivers to get items to the shelves. With most of the country’s goods finding their way to stores via trucks, this creates gaping problems in the supply chain in getting what you want to the stores for your needs to be filled. The unfortunate news is that the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Supply Chain Shortfall

The country is experiencing a severe shortage of truck drivers, and the problem looks like it will stretch into 2022, and affect the holiday shopping situation. The statistics are grim, with ships just sitting at the ports waiting to unload. All told, there is a shortage of 60,000 drivers when it comes time to move freight across the country. The shortage is just one problem of many facing the supply chain that gets your goods from the manufacturer to your house.

Douglas Kent, the executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM),  “A company is only as strong as its supply chain,” he says. “It is part of every organization’s strategy and critical to ROI.”

Although some people think that Covid-19 is entirely responsible for the paucity of long haulers, the truck driver shortage has actually been two years in the making, according to the American Trucking Associations. As of 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics approximated the average age of a truck driver at  55 year olds and reaching retirement.

Training More Truckers

Clearly the nation needs more young, qualified truck drivers, but getting new drivers behind the wheel is not so easy. The pandemic has not helped. Along with classroom and driving training, potential drivers need a physical and a drug screen. They also need a permit, and many offices that offer those were closed during the pandemic. There were also problems getting to the DMV to get the actual driver’s license. Even though offices are running more back to normal, there is still a backlog in getting new big rig drivers on the road.

There is good news, though, for drivers who are able to get out on the road. Since the majority of goods that make their way to American stores arrive by truck, salaries for drivers are on their way up and have been since before the pandemic. According to the American Trucking Association, they are up 25% since 2019.

“It’s certainly common at Pitt Ohio for our drivers to make $60,000 to $80,000, and many are making more than that. Some can certainly make over six figures,” Geoff Muessig, Executive Vice President of Pitt Ohio said.

Solving the Supply Chain Crisis

If the country is going to get back on track, several things must change. There are many holes in the supply chain that need to be shored up. President Joe Biden announced last week that he would keep the ports open 24/7 in order to try to stop the problem.

According to the New York Times, “Samsung, The Home Depot and Target also committed to moving more products at night to help ease congestion at the Port of Los Angeles and the nearby Port of Long Beach, which together handle 40 percent of the shipping containers imported into the United States, the White House said.”

But not everyone is convinced it will work. “Removing the bottleneck in one area – the ports – doesn’t create flow,” says Kent. “It’s commendable that the government is stepping in and trying to assist with port congestion, but other modes of transport that follow from there – rail and trucking – are stressed to breaking too. What they may be hoping for won’t resolve the overarching crisis.”

And with the holidays coming, things are looking difficult. People should plan ahead to make sure this season’s coveted presents arrive in time. But getting the presents to your door is not the only issue.  Forbes magazine said, “Forward logistics – getting products into the store or e-commerce warehouse and into the hands of the consumer – is this season’s issue, but come January, we are going to see reverse logistics arise as items are returned.”

With all of the gaps in the supply chain and the holidays coming up, make your choices early so that you will not disappoint those you love. And on a larger scale, the country needs to continue to fill the holes created by the lack of long haulers and the continuing effects of Covid-19. Just know that the fix will not be quick.