Why the Roadblock in American Trucking is Rocking Global Logistics

Why the Roadblock in American Trucking is Rocking Global Logistics

By Chris Crutchley on November 24, 2021
America and the open road have an iconic history and place in the country’s culture. In logistics, too, American roadways are a crucial asset to help ship cargo around the world.

But in a time of widespread supply chain worry, no mode of transport can escape labor shortages and unpredictability — including on the sprawling highways of the United States.

Today, the United States faces a shortage of over 80,000 drivers. In a logistics environment centered on trucking, headlines with phrases like “Christmas at Risk” or “It’s Time for Americans to Buy Less” are breaking news nationwide.

So how did we get here and, most importantly, what are the ripple effects across the globe?

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US trucking basics

America’s infrastructure hinges on its roadways. Across 50 states you won’t find many high-speed rails or ultra-modern underground subway systems as in many other nations. Instead, the country is connected by over 164,000 miles of highways. Whether it’s apples from Washington state bound for the midwest, maple syrup headed north to south, or palettes of Florida orange juice stacked in eighteen-wheelers, the nation’s roads are normally a 24/7 nonstop flow of trucks. 

That’s a lot of ground to cover, and it has historically taken an impressive workforce to do so. In 2019, trucking accounted for nearly six percent of total jobs in the US, translating to a total of 7.4 million people.

It’s safe to say trucking is the logistics industry within the US. Both for geographic and logistical reasons, trucking vastly outweighs the total tonnage for the transport of goods compared to air and sea. So when driver shortages occur, it’s not necessarily possible to just fall back on another mode of transport to get goods where they need to be. That’s why there’s a problem today.

A labor force stretched thin

While America’s trucking shortage is especially acute and widely publicized today, it has been a problem in the making for years.

Trucking is a job with long hours, extended stretches away from home, and technological inefficiencies. This has prevented the industry from growing at a more sustainable rate over time. Although pay rates have increased to attract new workers, the job’s difficult nature was compounded by the pandemic. COVID also prevented many would-be truckers from getting their necessary certifications due to closures in training centers. 

There is also a limit to just how many miles an individual can cover in a day. Most truck drivers in the US, for instance, are allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours per day. These same drivers are responsible for carrying 71% of the US economy’s goods. Pair this with peak demand during the holidays, and it becomes a conundrum not just for companies who need to ship their goods, but also for their consumers.

That’s why managers and owners of trucking fleets are doing everything they can to find new drivers — including seeking drivers in foreign countries. From Canada to South Africa, companies are seeking out employees anywhere possible, and they’re even willing to brave the difficult visa processes to make it work.

Holdups are fueling global supply chain woes

Soybeans are the US’s biggest export to Asia. They’re most often grown in middle America and then trucked in to major ports before entering a container ship bound for numerous hotspots across Asia.

Iowa and places like Guangzhou are a long way apart. Inevitably, it takes a lot of moving parts to make trade between such disparate regions happen.  

The immediate issue presented by the current shortage is getting agricultural products ready to board transcontinental ships. Farmers and food production conglomerates are forced to adapt to the stop-and-start availability of domestic truckers. Today, however, that’s just the beginning of the issue.

Now, both a shortage of truck drivers to move cargo and a backlog of containers needing to be unloaded are multiplying the issues at hand for the global supply chain. As detailed in a recent article by CBIP’s Nick Bartlett, COVID’s impact on the demand for ocean freight caused ship owners to reconfigure pricing and fleet size. This, in turn, put mass pressure on ports due to shifts in demand that threw off the balance of containers coming to and from North America.

This has caused a mass overflow of empty containers stuck at ports like Los Angeles that need somewhere to go. Unfortunately, not only are truck drivers needed to get the products to the ports, they’re necessary to transport the excess storage vessels elsewhere. 

No matter how many inland ports or boats loaded with empty containers we can find, without truck drivers, the chain simply doesn’t work. Now more than ever, reliable access to truck drivers is something that just can’t be taken as a given. 

To cope with regional issues like trucking supply as well as market-shifting events, it requires a holistic approach to your unique supply chain.

Partner with a logistics company that has comprehensive ground coverage

Global shipping is often unpredictable, especially today. With so much uncertainty in the market, it’s key that you have options for your logistics in case your provider gets held back. That’s why a growing number of businesses are switching to fourth-party logistics (4PL) firms.

CBIP Logistics is a full-service 4PL firm dedicated to crafting adaptable programs custom-made for your business. With a foothold in all major markets and on-the-ground partners ready to help, you can take on challenges with confidence — especially in times of uncertainty.

Our full-service logistics also gives you updates at every step of the process, so you can be sure where your cargo is as well as be able to schedule and digitally confirm pickups or drop-offs.

Ready to optimize your ground shipping? Speak with our team of experts today.

About Author

Chris Crutchley

Chris Crutchley is CBIP’s director of operations and finance. He has over a decade of corporate finance and operational expertise throughout the Asia Pacific.

In logistics, Chris strives to continuously innovate and challenge the industry’s norms in order to offer clients world-class service that emphasizes clear communication.

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