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The Future of the Trucking Industry: What it Means for Manufacturing


Once one of America’s most respected professions, truck driving now generally struggles to be seen in a positive light. Instead of being seen as a traditional, hard-working segment of the workforce, unpleasant notoriety now exists around truck drivers. In 2018, Wisconsin-based trucking company manager Boris Strbac told The Washington Post that “people don’t respect truck drivers. We are treated as the bad guys on the road by other drivers and the police.”

That perceived lack of respect from other motorists, law enforcement, and the general public is just one reason why the U.S. is in the midst of a truck driver shortage. The job is also difficult and isolating, resulting in a high turnover rate.

Employment trends within the trucking industry have wide-reaching implications. For starters, trucking is essentially the lifeblood of manufacturing logistics. Without trucking, the whole supply chain could crumble. In fact, about 71% of American freight is moved via truck, equating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on an annual basis. Due to the national truck driver shortage, freight prices have jumped considerably in recent years. And the trend is expected to continue, to the detriment of food suppliers and restaurants alike.

How Trucking Impacts Food Manufacturing Supply Chains

Rising freight costs within the food industry due to truck driver shortages are nothing new. The same year that Strbac vented his work-based frustrations to the Washington Post, food manufacturers began to see freight costs severely impact their bottom line. Representatives for Tyson Foods, one of the country’s largest producers of meat products, reported a freight cost increase of $250 million in a single year.

When freight costs rise, those costs are typically passed along to the consumer. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), national food prices in January 2020 were 1.8% higher than the previous year. What’s more, the cost of foods consumed away from home, such as in restaurants, increased by more than 3%, with fruits and vegetables seeing the largest relative price increase of all food categories.

Produce often must travel long distances to reach the nation’s restaurants, grocery stores, and cafes, and their transport is typically done via truck. And even food and beverage industry trends, such as increased demand for plant-based meat substitutes, can’t curb the damage caused by increased freight costs.

Data indicates that the truck driver shortage is a primary culprit of rising freight costs nationwide. In order to help curb those rising costs, the trucking industry may need to make changes to help bring more workers to the crippled industry.

Methods for Improving Truck Driver Health

Trucking can take a major toll on a driver’s physical and mental health. Thus, many job seekers overlook truck driving opportunities as they find the pay to be negligible compared to the work performed. Long-distance truck drivers, for example, spend a large chunk of their time on the road, and may only see their families a few times per month.

That social isolation, coupled with health difficulties such as lack of physical exercise and sleep deprivation, directly contributes to the national truck driver shortage. Reducing hours spent on the road while increasing pay may be key factors in job recruitment within the trucking industry.

Exercise is also an important consideration for prospective truckers, who need to counteract their sedentary lifestyle in order to improve their overall health. Sitting for more than six hours per day can be detrimental to one’s health, even contributing to premature death. Trucking companies should thus consider including a gym membership as part of their sign-on bonus, or provide incentives for positive health changes among employees, such as weight loss or smoking cessation.

Yellow semi truck transporting goods in the trucking industry

Manufacturing Logistics, Supply, and Demand

Unfortunately, health-related measures may not be enough to spawn a renewed interest in truck driving as a career. The sad truth is that the “U.S. trucker shortage is expected to more than double over the next decade,” reports Bloomberg. Trucking companies are looking to fill in the employment gaps by recruiting more young people and women, typically underrepresented in the workforce.

But it may not be enough, leaving the U.S. manufacturing industry in a limbo. In fact, Washington State University reports that the manufacturing industry is adding jobs faster than the rest of the economy, especially within the fabricated metals, machinery, and food manufacturing industries. And as the manufacturing sector continues to rake in steady revenue, the demand for freight and trucking naturally increases.

If the truck driver shortage isn’t mitigated in the near future, manufacturers from all industries will have to look elsewhere for their freight needs. Inevitably, costs will then rise at both the business and consumer levels. Steadily rising freight costs lead to gaps in the supply chain, a fact that seems counterintuitive in a nation where product manufacturing is in high demand. It’s time for trucking industry leaders to make appropriate, forward-thinking policy changes in order to help mitigate the truck driver shortage and perhaps stop the snowballing costs of freight across the country.

For over 50 years USC Consulting Group has been guiding logistics and manufacturing companies with optimizing their supply chains and improving their bottom lines. Contact us today and we will help drive up efficiency in your operations.

This article is written by guest author Beau Peters. View more of Beau’s articles here.


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