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How to Cope with the Persistent Driver Shortage

by | IntelliTrans | Sep 2, 2021 | Blog News

With the ATA expecting a shortfall of 160,000 truck drivers by 2028, it’s time to start using advanced technology to address the problem and plan for the future.

The nation’s truck driver shortage predates the global pandemic, which only pushed it to full crisis level as demand for capacity soared, an overall labor shortage ensued and a slew of truck drivers retired. Now, as the trucking sector works to right the ship, companies across all industries are feeling the pinch of the persistent driver shortage.

“Trucking has emerged as one of the most acute bottlenecks in a supply chain that has all but unraveled amid the pandemic,” Transport Topics reports, “worsening supply shortages across industries, further fanning inflation and threatening a broader economic recovery.”

In July, a group of legislators and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCMA) held a roundtable meeting with the trucking industry to discuss efforts to improve driver retention and reduce turnover. Among the measures the industry is seeking is lowering the minimum age to 18 from 21 for interstate drivers and adding trucking to the list of industries that can bypass some of the Department of Labor’s immigration certification process, Transport Topics reports.

There was also inclusion of legislation in the infrastructure bill that aims to attract more trucker candidates. The federal infrastructure bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate includes the DRIVE-Safe Act, which focuses on one of the primary obstacles to bringing younger drivers into the industry—the requirement that they are at least 21 years old to drive in interstate commerce.

“Once you are 18 years old, you can drive a semi from Rockford to Cairo. You can drive it anywhere inside a state, but what you can’t do is drive across a state line,” a representative from the Illinois Trucking Association told the Marietta Daily Journal. Under the new legislation, once a driver qualifies for a commercial driver’s license, they begin a two-step training program with at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced truck driver.

160,000 Shortfall Ahead

By weight and value, trucks carry more freight across the country than any other mode combined, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), which estimates that there are currently 1.8 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers operating in the U.S. In 2019,  the industry was short nearly 61,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations, which is anticipating a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2028.

Add the anticipated driver retirement numbers combined with the nation’s growing freight transportation needs and the ATA estimates that the industry will have to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade, the Free-Lance Star reports. “That’s an average of nearly 110,000 per year.”

Shippers are feeling the pinch. “The truck driver situation is keeping me up at night; the situation continues to deteriorate,” says the logistics director for one large timberland company. “I know that we lost a lot of drivers during COVID and we haven't been able to get them back into the industry.” Concerned about having enough trucks to carry the company’s loads—and drivers to put in those seats—the company is working more closely with its carriers and more carefully assessing its choice of lanes, modes and providers.

As carriers, governments, and organizations and trucking schools work to get more drivers trained, licensed and on the road, technology is also playing a role in helping shippers cope with the impacts of the ongoing driver shortage. Using IntelliTrans’ ever-expansive tendering system, for instance, companies can present the shipments that they need covered to a broader audience of carriers, all of which can see the available load at the same time.

Here’s how it works: Using a transportation management system (TMS) tendering algorithm, the solution provides load visibility to an ever-expanding set of carriers in a structured, defined order to optimize coverage and cost. Continuous expansion of visibility to carriers means lower-cost carriers can still accept a load even when a higher-cost carrier has visibility to it.

“This also allows more carriers to see your freight when loads are difficult to cover,” says Ken Sherman, President at IntelliTrans. This method also offers substantial savings compared to other TMSs that remove the load from each carrier after their time to review has expired. In fact, IntelliTrans reports that the average cost of carriers that took a load was $110 lower than the highest-cost carrier that could currently see that load.

“Instead of a carrier being able to view the load for 15 minutes before it’s yanked and given to the next carrier, the shipper can leave the opportunity open for hours,” Sherman explains. “This helps with load coverage in tight markets, where drivers are difficult to find, and it gets shippers to lower rates in ‘looser’ markets.”

Plan for Tomorrow Today

Shippers can use this challenging time to invest in the technology they need to resolve their immediate issues while also planning for the future. For even though the driver availability issue will at some point return to some level of normalcy, there’s also another potential disruption waiting around the next corner.

“This is a great time to start securing some internal investment to try out new solutions like ever-expansive tendering algorithms,” says Blake Ezell, Director, Supply Chain Consulting at IntelliTrans. “If you start planning for tomorrow today, you won’t have to keep reacting to the market and putting out fires. Instead, you’ll be putting together solutions in advance of the next potential roadblock.”

control_room_graphicAnalytics and Visibility for the End-to-End Supply Chain

IntelliTrans’ Global Control Tower provides high levels of supply chain transparency; aggregates, completes, and enhances data from a variety of sources; offers visibility into and execution of different aspects of the supply chain; and generates data-driven alerts and analytics that ask deeper questions and deliver meaningful insights.

By leveraging tracking information, the Global Control Tower provides analytics that measures key performance indicators (KPIs) like fleet cycle time, origin/destination dwell time, lane and hauler performance, back orders, freight spend, load optimization, and more. With their rate, equipment, lease, tracking, and invoice data in a central repository that’s accessible 24/7, companies can position themselves for success in any market conditions.