Truck driver shortage exacerbating supply chain disruptions, SC Trucking Association says

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 8:07 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 8:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Supply chain disruptions are being further exacerbated by an ongoing statewide shortage of truck drivers, according to the South Carolina Trucking Association.

Because trucks are involved in nearly every link in the supply chain system, hiccups like this create bottlenecks and delays, leading consumers to ultimately pay more for food and other goods.

Some drivers are experiencing frustratingly long delays while picking up cargo at ports.

“Hours sometimes, it takes hours,” Swarner Warren Hill Jr., a contractor truck driver, said. “I almost hate it going in, I’ve been driving on my own for almost three years, I dreaded the port when I first came there. And it’s a madhouse sometimes, it takes over a couple of hours just to get one container or take one back in.”

Truck driver Michael Houston has seen similar delays.

“I’ve had situations where I’ve had to load for six to eight hours, and there’s been times where if you hit your appointment time, you know they may make you wait, I’ve waited up to 12 hours before,” he said.

South Carolina Trucking Association President Rick Todd said delays like these then discourage businesses from being engaged in that part of the economy.

He added that supply chain issues are not isolated to the trucking sector, and the shortage of drivers is being felt nationally.

“The biggest problem is we just don’t have enough equipment, we don’t have enough drivers, we don’t have enough workers to participate in the really large and complex supply chain just across the board, not just in the trucking sector,” Todd said. “And when you talk about ports, that’s an intermodal supply chain that is international trade, and at best, it’s a complex choreography which involves different players and it’s critical that they all operate efficiently and in concert to create a flow so that everybody’s in sync and you don’t have any kinks.”

With fewer than the desired amount of truck drivers on the roads, this system is no longer in sync, and those delays can be extended.

Todd said the organization knew a shortage of drivers was on the horizon due to retirements, but the pandemic made the problem worse and some drivers have since changed careers.

According to Hill Jr., more concrete steps must be taken to keep drivers in the profession.

“Well you have to make it more appealing,” he said. “You know back in the day truck drivers used to make probably more money with less expenses. We have all the trucks with emissions, and everything dealing with that truck that has to do with emissions is costly. Filters maybe two or three thousand dollars, and then right now the fuel is sky-high. And it’s hard for a driver to see what’s clear after he gets finished paying $2,000 in fuel charges a week.”

To this end, Todd said that there have been significant industry-wide pay increases recently, and it has seen a number of companies transition to minimum pay as well.

The South Carolina Trucking association said that supply chain issues could potentially linger for as long as a year.

“The supply chain was strained, trucking capacity issue was constrained before the pandemic and now it’s back full-force because of the whiplash effect,” Todd said. “Demand has exceeded the supply of goods and materials and the transportation system to accommodate it.”

Todd said his organization is working to attract more drivers to the field through the Be Pro, Be Proud campaign, a workforce development project designed to introduce South Carolina high schoolers to the benefits of skilled trade jobs.

Through the program, a tractor-trailer complete with hands-on simulators for a variety of professions travels to high schools across the state. It’s often booked a year in advance.

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