The shortage is forcing transportation providers serving both inbound and outbound auto industry services to consider new recruitment tactics and work with customers on better capacity utilization.
At this year’s Automotive Logistics and Supply Chain Global conference, held in Detroit in September, senior transportation and logistics executives joined OEMs to discuss the driver issue and what they were working together to fix it.
The disruption to parts and vehicle deliveries that began with the ‘big quit’ following the Covid pandemic continues to impact an automotive sector that was already battling to recruit more drivers.
To recruit drivers, carriers need to offer secure career opportunities with competitive pay, as demonstrated for example by last November’s guaranteed compensation scheme introduced by United Road.
It’s also about providing better working conditions, which the recent investment in safe parking options for drivers in the US has partly solved. As part of the recently signed bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the Department of Transportation (DoT) has committed $37.6 million for the expansion of safer parking options for highway freight drivers, as part of the BIL trucking action plan.
The automotive logistics sector is also considering ways to attract new talent, hungover from the problems caused by the Covid pandemic, which closed schools and colleges.
“We had to refocus on those who came from other trucking companies, rather than out of schools,” said Richard DeBoer, executive vice president of supply chain logistics at Carter Logistics, which provides a range of inbound truck loading services. “It helped us because we perfected this process and it helped us become more flexible.”
This is something automaker Stellantis is also focusing on in terms of finished vehicle deliveries and Christopher Mattingly, vice president of transportation at Stellantis – North America, highlighted the automaker’s efforts in Canada, where it operates its own fleet of car carriers. .
“We have a hard time, especially in Canada, recruiting drivers with experience in motor vehicle transportation, so we have an initiative to bring in dry van drivers,” Mattingly said. “It was quite successful. It takes some time to go through the training for this to happen, but we have some experience in this area. It is a good initiative for us. »
Now that schools have reopened, Stellantis is also looking again to attract driver talent and ensure a steady supply of employees.
“We’re looking at how we can partner with different high schools and community colleges and offer to train ourselves to be the drivers of the future,” Mattingly said. “We seek engagement with [the schools and colleges] to support recruitment because we need to get that constant flow.
Also important to attracting a younger generation of drivers is reducing long-haul deliveries, which keep drivers on the road for a week or more, an issue of particular concern for the finished vehicle sector.
“It’s important to bring people home every night,” Mattingly said. “It’s easier to do in other driving jobs, but much more difficult with automatic transport; that’s where we focus.
Michael Anderson, vice president of automotive/industrial vertical for North America at Maersk, agrees.
“There are studies that show if we can shorten this [time away] with team riders it can make the industry more attractive,” he said.
Mattingly added that geography is the challenge with long-distance trucking in the United States and that rail is the best (and most cost-effective) option for long-distance vehicle shipments.
“It is much cheaper to move a vehicle by rail over long distances than to have these drivers two or three days on the road to make their deliveries,” he said.
The better coordination of rail and road services to improve conditions for drivers, including the elimination of unnecessary and long road journeys through better allocation of rail ramps, is not a new subject for the automotive sector and precedes the disruption of the Covid pandemic.
It is also a point that fits well with the need for greater efficiency and reduced waiting times in the delivery of vehicles and parts expressed during the conference.
Keep on trucking
On inbound parts deliveries, greater effort is being made to reduce driver downtime and move away from the inefficient use of a truck as a “warehouse on wheels”. Using transportation assets as a storage option to avoid cross-docking requires valuable capacity at a time when greater flexibility in the use of these assets is paramount. Mattingly said the warehouse-on-wheels practice is a huge problem, tying up equipment and prolonging wait times.
Greg Megerian, director of logistics at seating supplier Adient, agreed.
“Everyone sees that we shouldn’t use a warehouse on wheels [concept] more,” he said. “We need to understand this and put pressure on our factories to be more flexible and keep drivers happy.”
Megarian added that transportation assets should be on the move and drivers should be employed in what earns them money. “We can’t keep the trucks on our sites or at the suppliers, the drivers don’t make money doing that,” he said. “We have to be better and help ourselves and keep the freight moving.”
Ignoring this has already cost the automotive logistics industry dearly, with many drivers leaving because they see a better opportunity to earn a living in other sectors, such as e-commerce.
The closure of factories and logistics facilities during the pandemic has exacerbated the problem of using transport to store parts and this has also resulted in the decommissioning of available equipment due to sporadic production. Richard DeBoer, executive vice president of supply chain logistics at Carter Logistics, said plant closures meant parking equipment for drivers that weren’t needed.
“Some of our customers may have seen seven of their 14 plants shut down, but the other seven were operating, but not on all of their lines,” DeBoer said. This situation changed without warning, requiring much closer communication between logistics providers and OEMs.
“We had to be on the phone with our customers all the time to understand what was going on in their supply chain – what products [were needed]which vendors were open and which were closed,” DeBoer said.
This situation has heightened Carter’s focus on its customers and data reporting, which has continued to the present and is likely to continue in the future.
This communication is important for logistics providers transporting freight to stem further labor losses.
Watch full coverage of this year’s Automotive Logistics and Supply Chain Global conference sessions