Everyone in transportation feels the pain, but the growing driver and capacity shortages are hitting many bulk transporters particularly hard.
For instance, the petroleum-hauling tank truck industry experienced a 41.6% reduction in qualified driver applicants and a 23.3% reduction in drivers from spring of 2020 to spring of 2021, according to a report by National Tank Truck Carriers. This situation is expected to persist in the coming years, with the NTTC reporting 23% of petroleum tank truck drivers are within 10 years of retirement. Further exacerbating the situation, the current population of bulk tanker drivers is about seven years older than typical labor pools—and they’re retiring in large numbers.
Today, there are approximately 63,000 open truck driver jobs in the bulk tanker market alone. To get back to normal levels, carriers would need to hire and train about 174,000 new drivers from now through 2026 when the situation is expected to improve. New drivers are currently being on-boarded, but not quickly enough or in large enough numbers to ease the pressure for tank truck carriers and bulk shippers. To make matters worse, younger drivers often want less complex work. All of this creates the perfect storm of extreme market dynamics.
In turn, tank truck carriers are spending money trying to attract experienced bulk tank drivers away from their competitors. This has created disruption for carriers, as well as higher costs and delays for bulk shippers.
Unanticipated events like the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which led to a days-long disruption of fuel delivery to many states in the spring of 2021, put the shortage of tank truck drivers in the national spotlight for average consumers. With summer approaching, consumers had to consider whether gas would be available for planned vacations. And tank trucks don’t just haul fuel—they carry chemicals that go into many everyday products consumers have come to rely on.
Bulk shipping experts and technology teams in the industry began studying the problem when it became critically evident in early 2020, when the pandemic threw a wrench into supply-chain transportation. Facts were separated from conjecture and a clearer picture of demand and capacity in the bulk market was distilled. Ineffeciences in carrier-shipper relationships were exposed, and entirely new ways to address the problem were identified, focusing especially on technology-aided solutions.
Studying is one thing. Putting insights to action is key. Through this study came an analytics-driven technology platform that does more than help bulk shippers book loads. The platform provides an intelligent system that delivers insights into the driving factors of the bulk tank carrier market. For example, “what-if” scenarios can be provided to shippers, allowing them to determine the impact of adjusting lead times from days to weeks. These tools also enable bulk shippers to assess whether they are willing to pay more for certain lanes or whether they want to tender loads to more carriers.
One of the more intriguing aspects about ananalytics-driven technology platform is it’s predicated on the reality that bulk shipping is highly relationship-driven. As such, there’s a human element built into the technology that enables bulk shippers to better understand shipper-carrier relationships and the factors that influence carrier decision-making.
Analytics-driven technology also gives bulk shippers the ability to test “what-if” scenarios in their own operations. They can assess the impact of paying more for certain lanes or loads. They can determine what would happen if they asked their customers if they really needed to receive shipments by a firm date or whether certain delivery dates could be extended without impacting their customers’ business. Bulk shippers also can determine through the technology whether they want to expand their carrier network to new carriers they previously hadn’t engaged.
Another human element is embedded into the technology that considers tank truck carrier and driver preferences. Both parties are brought into the planning and process—providing transparency and collaboration. An environment is created where carriers and drivers feel more strategically connected with bulk shippers and are engaged in the process, and not just serving as commodities or assets.
The current environment with severe driver shortages isn’t new.
According to NTTC, petroleum carriers and other heavy tractor trailer drivers saw an average of one hire for every nine job postings from September 2016 to January 2021. The NTTC also noted that closures of driving schools and DMVs throughout the U.S. during the pandemic made the driver shortage worse. Even if new drivers wanted to apply with tank truck carriers, they lacked the ability to get the certifications required to do the job.
Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and proceed with business as usual. There are potentially five more years ahead of bulk shipping logjams before there’s expected to be enough tank truck drivers on the road and capacity issues subside. This new analytics-driven technology is a way forward to navigate the alarming demographics of the bulk driver market.
It’s already producing solid results for bulk shippers, tank truck carriers, and drivers alike.
Shippers who have deployed this technology are finding new possibilities within the bulk tank market and enlisting the decision-making features of the platform to prioritize and optimize. In turn, carriers and drivers are strengthening their relationships with bulk shippers and discovering new bulk shipper customers. In the end, it brings efficiency and collaboration into the bulk transportation process, while connecting tank truck carrier preferences with bulk shippers’ desired business outcomes.