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Over the course of two days, on November 4th-5th, leaders in the transportation industry from across the world met in Geneva to discuss the current status of global supply chain issues. This event marked the first time that an in-person meeting of the International Road Transport Union (The IRU) was able to take place in almost two years.
Present at the meeting were transportation representatives from North America (including representatives from the ATA), South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
There were a few key themes that appear to be present across the globe, regardless of any cultural, societal, and political differences that exist across nations.
Let’s take a look at some of the key supply chain issues which were discussed during the meeting.
The truck driver shortage in America is a serious issue. Per the ATA, the U.S. is short by about 80,000 truck drivers. Worse yet, if this issue is not addressed quickly, this trend seems like it will only get worse over the next ten years.
However, this issue is not isolated to the U.S. In fact, nearly every other country and region represented at the meeting are reporting similar issues, with slight variability in the number of drivers.
For instance, China began to experience a truck driver shortage in 2020 and is reporting that this is still an issue today.
Additionally, the U.K. is reporting a driver shortage of more than 100,000, which may increase even more due to the recent Brexit-related consequences.
This driver shortage has some consistent themes across countries as well, such as an aging truck driver pool and the average worker’s desire to spend more time at home.
Again, some of this data is specific to the United States. However, other countries report similar numbers.
As far as drivers' age is concerned, the median age of these individuals hovers around 46 years old. This number lies above the median age of the average American worker, which is roughly 42 years old.
Especially with such a physically taxing job, an aging workforce is a big problem.
Driving a truck is often a very lucrative career, but it does not allow for what most would consider a “normal” life. Drivers are on the road for long periods without seeing their families and they may have difficulty making and keeping appointments due to the nature of their work. In general, drivers have to be comfortable with these items as routine parts of the job.
Luckily, there have been some steps taken toward addressing these problems. The infrastructure package that was recently passed in the United States has lowered the legal age of interstate truck drivers. Drivers can now begin transporting goods between states at 18 instead of 21.
Furthermore, drivers’ wages have been raised to unprecedented levels in order to attract more workers to the field.
There is also a push for trucking companies to do what they can to appeal to minorities and women as well.
The European Union is considering similar solutions to these problems.
Another one of the key supply chain issues that came up during the Geneva meeting was that of environmental concerns.
There’s little resistance or objection to environmentally-friendly changes in operations across the transportation industry. Most leaders and professionals recognize that steps must be taken to curb climate change and decrease our impact on the environment.
However, there are some concerns from industry professionals that the timelines set by groups like the EU are unrealistic. Chris Spear, the President of the ATA, voiced his skepticism of the proposed emission reduction timelines set by the EU and U.S. as follows:
“Europe is moving so quickly and there is a growing disconnect between their ability to meet those technology timelines for adoption. We have to have this conversation. They need to stop — in the U.S. and Europe — chasing rainbows and unicorns and start having a real discussion about how we can go green, and how quickly we can actually do and manage those expectations with the American people and the European citizens, respectively.”
Spear emphasized the importance of groups such as the ATA working closely with regulating bodies in order to create and maintain policies that will last long-term. He firmly believes that collaboration is preferable to mandates which come from higher up the chain.
These key supply chain issues which global supply chains are currently facing are very real and very urgent. But this does not mean that there aren’t realistic, sustainable steps that can be taken to address these issues before they get worse.
Transportation leaders are hard at work thinking of how to best deal with the complex, worldwide issues we see in our interconnected world. While some of the major backups and logjams we are witnessing in the news may not be resolved until mid-late 2022, the solutions that have been presented will help our systems remain more resilient when any future problems arise.