Warehouse innovations march on, whether or not there's a specific person at the helm—inventions, tweaks and upgrades can all be created off-site and incorporated as needed. When it comes to logistics, however, the individuals who move stock and components from A to B have always been a static need, outside of this circle of improvement. With the current shortage of qualified drivers showing no signs of relenting, stressed supply chain professionals are looking to change that, formulating new shipping solutions that turn traditional trucking methods on their ear.
"We're All in This Together"
Times of trouble make for strange bedfellows, as the saying goes, and trucking companies are starting to fulfill that prophesy by treating hauling as a shared commodity. As rivals realize their shared complications, they're collaborating by sharing truck loads to reduce empty back hauls and maximize efficiency and continuous routing. The longer a driver is on the road with a half-empty truck, the more his or her company pays for time, gas and maintenance on their rig without reaping the full benefit of 100% capacity. Adrian Gonzalez of Talking Logistics notes that more trucking operation managers are "walking the talk" by actually setting this collaboration into motion, while Mike Albert of Inbound Logistics adds that this method is saving some shippers up to 35% over LTL methods.
Teenagers behind the Wheel
Current laws for the trucking industry dictate that drivers must be a minimum of 21 years of age, but new proposed legislation may change that. Of the three methods aiming to curtail the driver shortage—which is projected to reach 100,000 vacancies by 2025—it's arguably the most controversial. If the legislation passes, teens as young as 18 will be allowed to drive rigs of up to 80,000 pounds and work a staggering 82 hours a week. In a recent article in the Associated Press, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Jackie Gillan called the potential solution a "catastrophe" if the proposal is made into law. As concurrent arguments are being made against rolling recertifications and additional testing, there seems to be a high likelihood that the pool of available drivers is about to get significantly younger.
Can robots offer a safer shipping solutions than teenagers? Some industry insiders think so. Driverless trucks, already in use on some remote ore-mining roads in Australia, may be the key to fixing the driver shortage. If honed properly to ensure safety, driverless trucks could move freight faster and reduce costs for their parent companies. Without the need to adhere to hourly restrictions, meal breaks, bathroom breaks and sleep, companies can reap a considerable amount of time back in comparison to manned trucks, improving efficiency across the board. In addition, driver fatigue—and the associated collisions, tragedies and PR nightmares—will become a thing of the past, were this practice to become widespread. The downside, of course, is that the already hard-pressed existence of drivers combating low wages and high expectations even in the face of shortages will become considerably bleaker.
Getting products from suppliers and to customers is the heart of logistics, and that process is becoming something of an uphill battle in the face of the driver shortage. Will these methods completely repair the absence of qualified, ready drivers? Probably not, but they are poised to take a good deal of pressure off while a more permanent solution is found. How will your company remain competitive if your stock ends up in a truck without someone behind the wheel? Even if you use a third party provider for your shipping solutions, it's in your best interests to stay informed about the driver shortage situation, and to schedule a talk with your provider to see what their plans are for weathering the storm.