With unemployment levels at or near historic lows across most industries, finding, hiring, and retaining qualified workers is a growing challenge for many businesses. In some industries, the worker shortage is on the cusp of becoming a bona fide crisis. Transportation and supply chain have been particularly hard hit. It’s become increasingly difficult to fill driver and service technician positions in the transportation sector, and the talent shortage in supply chain logistics is bad and getting worse.
Drivers and technicians in short supply
There is currently a shortage of about 60,000 truck drivers in the U.S., and that number is expected to almost triple over the next eight years, according to a report by the chief economist of the American
Trucking Associations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects average annual demand of 28,300 new diesel technicians a year through 2021, but only about a third of that number are joining the industry, according to a TechForce Foundation report. And while BLS expects supply chain logistics jobs to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, one study estimates that demand for supply chain professionals currently exceeds supply by a ratio of six to one.
“If a company needs a driver and can’t find one, that generally means it has a truck sitting idle and product that needs to be moved but can’t be,” says Patrick Pendergast, vice president, talent acquisition and dedicated operations at Ryder System, Inc.
The challenge of identifying, recruiting, and then retaining good truck drivers is a significant one, and there is no simple solution. It takes a multi-pronged approach on the recruiting side to find and attract drivers and an effective internal support system to keep them over time. “That’s something we are very good at here at Ryder,” he says. “It’s a talent and capability that we bring to customers who generally do not have the same level of expertise that we do.”
The challenges are compounded when it comes to service technicians. In order to acquire the skills needed to succeed in this career, aspiring technicians must invest in an expensive trade school education or find a company, like Ryder, that is willing to train them from scratch in its own program.
Impact of a shifting workforce
Demographics are another factor affecting both occupations—negatively, from the perspective of potential hirers. As the Baby Boomers age out of the workforce, the number of qualified new candidates entering is not keeping up with industry demand. “The people aging out of the industry tend to have tremendous skill sets and knowledge bases, and when they leave, that goes with them,” Pendergast says.
Even when a business can hire a qualified new technician, a significant investment in training is required to keep up with constantly changing technology.
“The components on a truck have changed significantly over the past five or six years,” Pendergast notes. “Every time you pull a truck into a bay today, the first thing a technician does is hook it up to a computer. Staying ahead of all the changes in technology model year after model year is a significant challenge on the technician side. Again, this is an area where Ryder is very confident in our ability to identify, find, train, and up-skill highly qualified diesel technicians.”
Things are much the same on the supply chain talent side, says David Barlaam, director of talent acquisition at Ryder. For example, the U.S. is graduating about 10,000 industrial engineers a year, while there are, conservatively, 13,000 to 14,000 openings for industrial engineers right now across the country. “We’re facing 2.1 percent unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree or better, so it’s an extraordinarily tight job market,” he says. What’s more, the supply chain sector is competing for the same pool of talent with many other industries, such as automotive and aerospace.
“The situation here is very similar to what Patrick described with drivers and technicians,” Barlaam says. “We have a Baby Boomer population that’s retiring, and as they leave the workforce, a lot of the knowledge they have gained over the last 40- plus years of their careers needs to be transferred. It’s a challenge that everyone’s facing, and it most certainly is worsening.”
Finding the support you need
Given all these challenges, offloading responsibility for talent acquisition in transportation and supply chain to an outsource partner would seem to be a no-brainer for companies that don’t count those capabilities among their core competencies. Many businesses, from the very small to the very large, are already doing just that.
“With our size and the depth and breadth of services and expertise we have at our disposal, Ryder can help with something as small as a single driver for a short period of time to an end-to-end solution for a fleet of hundreds of thousands of trucks,” Pendergast says. “And the level of service we provide will be excellent, across the board and regardless of size.”
This article was first published by Entrepreneur Magazine and republished with permission.