Unclogging ports won’t solve even bigger supply chain trucking crisis

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This week, the Biden administration addressed the most visible sign of the nation’s supply chain crisis: the opening of ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., To work around the clock to unload freighters.

Walmart

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, Target

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, FedE

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x, the directors of UPS, Los Angeles and Long Beach Port Authority as well as the leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Teamster all agree with the 24/7 plan.

This may bring relief in ports, but once overseas containers filled to capacity reach land, there is another critical issue in the supply chain: a shortage of truckers and trucks to deliver. get these goods to where they are needed. The current measures are a band aid for the supply chain crisis, not a cure.

“Removing the bottleneck in one area – the ports – doesn’t create flow,” says Douglas Kent, executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM). “It’s laudable that the government is stepping in and trying to help alleviate port congestion, but other modes of transportation that flow from it – rail and trucking – are also under breaking stress. What they can hope for will not solve the global crisis. “

Ask for help

As with all parts of the retail infrastructure, there is a critical labor shortage for truck drivers. But unlike many retail jobs where people can be put to work after a few hours of on-the-job training, the job requirements for trucking require months of professional training. And too few people are lining up to take on the responsibility of moving the big trucks.

While the new 24/7 plan may open up the flow of products from overseas, these products need to be moved overland to get to where they are needed most. In fact, it’s like channeling the stream of water from a fire hose into thousands of small garden hoses with many crimps.

The warehouses near the ports are filled to capacity. Skilled warehouse workers are scarce. And the trucks and truckers to move the goods are thin on the ground.

“It seems like everything that is needed to start the supply chain is either in the wrong place at the wrong time or not available at all,” continues Kent. “The complexity of orchestrating the supply chain is going to be an ongoing issue.”

A shortage of truckers has grown over the past two decades, according to the American Trucking Associations. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the average age of a truck driver to be 55, which makes him – less than 10% of truckers are women – 58 today. This means he was born in 1963, quickly approaching retirement and at an age where stamina and reflexes are starting to wear off.

Supply chain expert Tony Nuzio, CEO and founder of ICC Logistics and former editor-in-chief of Transport regulation report, points out that even though ports are open 24/7, getting drivers to pick up a load at 2 a.m. remains a challenge. And what’s more, with all the truckers concentrated around California ports, the available truckers are MIA in other parts of the country.

Become a road warrior

Young blood is desperately needed to get behind the wheel and move the products forward. Derek Leathers, CEO of Omaha-based trucking company Werner Enterprises

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, told NPR, “Being a truck driver was something that came with a certain level of honor. They were sort of the “knights of the road”, and we lost that somewhere along the way. “

Hiring young drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 is a priority. “The biggest problem with truck drivers is that they don’t want to be away from home and their families for a week or ten days,” Nuzio shares. At this young age, they may be willing to make the personal sacrifices that long-haul trucking demands, or even see an advantage.

“Finding truck drivers to make deliveries to consumers and businesses has been a problem for decades. And no one has found a solution to that, ”he continues.

Technology is one way of attracting young people to trucking.

“Even in more manual tasks like truck driving and warehouse work, we are introducing new technologies so that people learn digital abilities that expand their knowledge base beyond the simple physical movement of a truck or truck. goods in the warehouse, ”notes Kent of ASCM.

“It gives them a way to advance on a different career path that is potentially transferable from trucking to other specialties in the supply chain and logistics,” he continues.

Technology to the rescue

This raises another challenge for the supply chain. Just as truck driving has lost its appeal, logistics and supply chain management are not seen as a particularly sexy career path for new MBAs, let alone college graduates, even high school graduates.

“There has been a mad rush lately to alleviate supply chain challenges, but there are so many nodes in the chain that are interconnected between multiple companies and different types of transportation. Everything has to work together transparently and too often it doesn’t, ”says Sam Lurye, founder of San Francisco-based logistics company Kargo.

While attending Stanford, Lurye did not intend to pursue a job in supply chain logistics, but experienced it firsthand when he worked for a large defense firm. This company was developing cutting-edge 21st century avionics technology, but its supply chain management was stuck in the last century.

“It was shocking to see such an advanced company not understanding where the parts were in their supply network,” said Lurye. “It became clear that very few people really thought about logistics, compared to people who solve fintech or consumer tech issues. Logistics is the lifeblood of the US economy and we need more people to apply it. “

He set out to develop technology to bring visibility to all parts of the supply chain, grease the wheels figuratively where the folds are, and move product through the network.

By studying the trucking node in the supply chain network, he found that waiting times at the dock for loading and unloading strained drivers, reducing their income and the time available to drive.

“Imagine going to the airport and being told they don’t know when your plane will take off,” he shares. “It’s like that with truckers. They arrive at the facility not knowing whether they will be there for 30 minutes, five hours, or all day.

The Kargo technology network calculates warehouse, plant or distribution center resources and provides an expected arrival and departure time so that the truck driver can plan their next stops and route.

“This optimizes the work of truckers and brings more job satisfaction,” continues Lurye. “The current systems are horribly opaque. Sharing data fundamentally improves trucking efficiency so that facilities know when a truck is coming, giving them time to prepare for shipments and be ready to unload and load the truck so it can get on. road.

Elevate supply chain workers

ASCM’s Kent sees a bright spot emerging from the current supply chain crisis and it is a rise in logistics and supply chain professionals from warehouse workers to truck drivers in going through the corporate ladder.

“This will draw more attention to the innovations and education needed to ensure scalable growth at the enterprise level,” he said.

His organization estimates that over the next five years, there will be a need for some six million warehouse and highway logistics and supply chain workers, including 2.5 million in management. and a million in the IOT side of the supply chain.

Nuzio of ICC Logistic argues that the supply chain manager should have a seat at the C-level table. “Given the amount companies spend on logistics and the critical role it plays for large retailers and manufacturing companies, the supply chain manager must be part of the C suite. ”

Kent of ASCM agrees. “A business is as strong as its supply chain,” he says. “It’s part of every organization’s strategy and is critical to return on investment. “

Getting products out of ports and putting them on store shelves is the current priority, but Kent warns that more problems await the backend once the holiday rush is over.

“Advanced logistics – getting products into the store or e-commerce warehouse and into the hands of the consumer – is the problem this season, but in January we’re going to see reverse logistics emerge as we go. the items are returned. Reverse logistics are just as, if not more complicated than downstream logistics, given the return costs and the handling of the entire return process, ”he concludes.


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