This is a contributed op-ed written by Mac Pinkerton, president of North American surface transportation at C.H. Robinson. Opinions are the author's own.
If anyone didn't know truck drivers played a significant role in the global economy, a year filled with COVID-19 outbreaks, wildfires, hurricanes, supply chain snarls and record e-commerce purchases brought the point home to millions of Americans. Truck drivers kept the nation moving, delivering 11 billion tons of goods.
In the constant stream of headlines about global disruptions of historic proportion, drivers have been the silver lining, rising to extraordinary challenges to do extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
We've been in the trenches with carriers — they're an extension of C.H. Robinson's business and we're an extension of theirs — and we saw them continue to hit the highway while much of the workforce stayed home.
We saw carriers increase hiring while other businesses made cuts. And we saw them enable a massive acceleration in e-commerce and home deliveries for families, which, for truck drivers, meant more hours on the road and more time away from their own loved ones.
Now, we face the busiest retail shopping season of the year and continued growth in e-commerce on top of what the U.S. Census Bureau said was a 32% jump last year. With the DAT load-to-truck ratio trending at unprecedented levels, the nation needs truck drivers more than ever.
The shortage of drivers isn't the only factor putting a squeeze on the trucking industry. For one, there's a shortage of parts for repairs.
Normal downtime for a truck — typically a couple of days — is now a few weeks, because carriers can't find tires, filters, coolant, etc. They're taking parts from trucks idle in the yard to keep the fleet moving, and we don't see that clearing up anytime soon. There are also backlogs for purchases of new trucks and trailers.
Appreciate current drivers as hiring pushes continue
There is no magic wand to wave away where we are in the trajectory of the supply chain, but we believe truck drivers will play an important role in turning the market.
Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire approximately 1.1 million new drivers just to keep up with demand. But right now, the drivers already dedicated to the profession need our support and appreciation.
We need to celebrate them, recognize their efforts, and continue to provide the technology they need to drive efficiencies and success for their businesses. Because when we help them optimize, we are also helping build more resilient supply chains. In fact, C.H. Robinson has seen a 70% increase in technology adoption by carriers since the start of the pandemic as they pursue automation and efficiencies everywhere possible.
The drivers already dedicated to the profession need our support and appreciation.
We can also support truck drivers by reducing empty miles, offering them desirable freight, getting them paid quickly, and championing the development of infrastructure and policies — like better parking — to help optimize their workload.
We are proud of truck drivers' tireless efforts and know they will play a significant role in the future of supply chains. That is why C.H. Robinson is inviting the nation to join us in showering truck drivers with gratitude, especially during Truck Driver Appreciation Week this week.
Look around your home, office or anywhere and you see the impact of truck drivers who deliver the food, medicines and supplies that feed our daily lives. Please visit ThankTruckDrivers.com and give thanks to the brave men and women who never left the road and keep delivering for America.
Time and again truck drivers have shown up for us. Now is the time to show up for them.
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