Can Shippers Be Blamed for the Trucker Shortage?

Attendees of the 3PL and Supply Chain Summit in early June (2018) may have heard something they weren’t prepared for thanks to a speech given by Land O’ Lakes chief supply-chain officer Yone Dewberry. Mr. Dewberry told the assembled audience that the industry he is a part of is responsible for creating the trucker shortage. But is that true? Can shippers be blamed for the fact the trucking industry is in desperate need of tens of thousands of drivers?

To answer that question effectively, you have to dissect all the contributing factors. Perhaps it is true that shippers have played a larger than expected role in creating the current crisis. But to say they are entirely responsible is another matter altogether.

Driving Prices Lower

Given Dewberry’s assessment, the place to start is the root of the problem as he sees it. Dewberry maintains that the shipping industry has spent so much time focusing on freight prices that they have forced independent truckers and motor carriers alike to continually reduce their prices. He believes that shippers focus too much on cutting costs and not enough on finding other ways to solve problems.

Let’s say Dewberry’s assessment is correct. What does that mean? It means trucking companies are charging less per load than they really should. Would that affect the number of drivers in their employ? Absolutely. If trucking companies cannot charge higher prices, they cannot maintain wage growth. Current truck drivers will look elsewhere if they feel that their pay is not commensurate with the work they do. Others who may have thought of getting into trucking will not even bother.

The Work Involved

Let’s be honest; driving truck is not as easy as it’s made out to be in the media. It is actually hard work. Take the average flatbed trucker, for example. Before he or she ever starts the engine and pulls away from the yard, time is spent loading the trailer and tying everything down. A truck driver can spend 30 minutes or more putting chains or straps over the load, inserting blocks and edge protectors, and then covering everything with tarps and bungee cords. Throw in some bad weather and that 30 minutes could easily be an hour.

Mytee Products is an Ohio company that supplies truckers with cargo control equipment. They say that truck drivers put an awful lot of effort into work they do not get paid for. Truckers get paid when the wheels are moving, not while they are tying down cargo and battling with tarps.

Public Perception

One of the contributing factors that makes us uncomfortable is public perception. As a culture and society, we have gone to great lengths over the last 20 years to erase manual labor from the American mindset. We want everyone to go to college and study something STEM related, so much so that higher education is how we define success. As such, the public perception of trucking isn’t very good. Yet few people realize that the national economy would come to a screeching halt if the trucking industry ceased operations.

There are other contributing factors that space does not allow us to address here. Needless to say that the current trucker shortage is attributable to a lot of factors. Is shipping a part of it? Absolutely. As Mr. Dewberry so eloquently explained earlier this summer, shipping companies have made life very difficult for the trucking industry. But there are other things in play. If we are going to solve the trucker shortage, we have to be willing to look honestly at all of them.