C. H. Robinson is a well-established third-party logistics company, with close ties to academic communities of logistics experts, as well as broad contacts in the field. Their 2020 Annual Report shows revenues over $16 billion, and a $2.4 billion profit. Their main businesses are North American surface transportation and global forwarding. They are the largest less-than-truckload 3PL in the US.
Clearly they have expertise in trucking, and a need to know what’s going on in the area. In this article they asked Jason Miller, a Logistics professor at Michigan State University, to talk about why trucking capacity is so tight.
He offers two reasons.
First, the pandemic surge was very disruptive to trucking, more than we think. It’s not just the COVID impact itself, and the loss of time, and it’s not just the ‘driver shortage’. it’s the fact that drivers started changing jobs to find positions safer and more conducive to a lifestyle they find more comfortable. Retention of drivers became a big problem. My research too indicates that turnover at trucking firms reached as high as 90% over the last two years. That adds recruiting, hiring, and training costs, and makes it hard to keep to schedules and load commitments. It’s part of ‘The Great Resignation’, and it hit trucking harder than most other sectors.
Second, one of the choices drivers made was to leave employment at trucking firms, and become owner-operators. The figures Dr Miller shows on this are remarkable.
Many of these new owner-operator firms were local freight rather than long-haul, showing that drivers wanted to be home more often than a long-haul schedule allows. Acting as an owner-operator also allows drivers to choose which loads they will accept; they can reject loads that carry onerous schedules or working conditions or excessive paperwork. As employees they had no say about which job they would take.
We know that trucking as an owner-operator is an easy-entry business. All you need to do is have a tractor and the appropriate filings with the government. Load boards provide a constant source of business you can bid on. And over time you can build a repeat-business clientele of shippers you want to work with.
You can also easily switch markets. Now that West Coast freight rates have shot up, we find that owner-operators have left the East and Midwest and flocked there to feast on the elevated drayage and haulage rates in the West. That creates shortages in other areas.
Miller has some advice for C.H. Robinson clients, which you can read. I wanted to highlight the article for its insightful look at aspects of truck driver supply we don’t often think about.
Trucking never fails to be interesting to examine!
Two less-obvious reasons why trucking capacity has remained so tight | C.H. Robinson blogTwo less-obvious reasons why trucking capacity has remained so tight | C.H. Robinson blog