CREATIVELY DISOBSERVING THE ORDINARY
Manager Sammy checks my car’s tires and then dashes back into the showroom.
He took a deep breath and wiped a drop of sweat off his forehead before exclaiming, “Wow! You sewed a needle through them! As I picture the line of early morning customers behind me, all of them shaking their heads at me, a wave of embarrassment washes over me.
Sammy, grimacing at the computer terminal in front of him, mumbles, “I’m not sure I have those in stock. It’s a pain in the (expletive) to get inventory these days.
Disgusted, he lifts his head from the computer and looks at me directly, saying, “You know…supply chain.”
What you’re about to read is the most cutting-edge advice for your golden years.
We’re all aware of it now. People only started learning about supply chains relatively recently. It was just the enchantment of the backend that made it possible for me to buy groceries and put new tires on my car. Many people now equate the supply chain with a game of roulette, where sometimes you get the products you want and other times you’re out of luck because they’re sold out.
“Got ’em!” Sammy’s exclamation made me exclaim with relief, “Great!”
He raised his hand and cautioned me, “Wait, don’t get excited. I’m not sure if anyone is available to help me mount them today. I need more technicians, but I don’t have any.
As I watch the tread on my tires wear away, I look over his shoulder and see that there are eight empty, spotless repair bays and only two lone technicians under vehicles suspended from hoists.
…and there it is. Another issue with the supply chain is the scarcity of qualified workers. When compared to other sectors, transportation is particularly vulnerable due to the triple threat of labor shortages posed by current recruitment and retention difficulties, an impending retirement wave, and an impending technology transition.
There is no better economic barometer than the transportation sector. People may be irritated by traffic jams and crowded trains and planes, but this actually indicates that the economy is doing well and that goods are being transported, workers are getting to and from their jobs, and consumers are spending money on entertainment and vacations. Furthermore, everyone is affected by transportation issues because they affect so many aspects of daily life.
Because of pilot and baggage handler shortages, flying has become as reliable as a game of blackjack. Heathrow Airport in London has asked airlines to halt summer ticket sales in an effort to alleviate strain on its inadequate workforce.
With a critical shortage of longshoremen and truck drivers, the sight of a seemingly never-ending line of waiting ships off the coast of Long Beach, California has become a cultural icon. There is a shortage of construction workers despite the fact that the federal government has allocated $1 trillion to repair the nation’s crumbling roads, ports, and rails. It was reported by the Associated Builders and Contractors that in March of 2022, there were 396,000 available construction jobs, an increase of 60 thousand from the same month the previous year.
The country’s population has been growing slowly but steadily over the past few years. There are some careers that don’t seem to offer much appeal. My requested tires arrived but nobody was around to put them on.
The manager of a tire store complained bitterly that he has a hard time hiring people. For many years, I have collaborated with the local trade school, but despite our competitive wages, we have been unable to hire anyone.
The retention realities only further complicate the recruitment problem. The majority of high school and college graduates in automotive technology leave the field within two years of entering it, as reported by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation.
A forthcoming retirement wave is also contributing to the transportation industry’s talent shortage. While the looming shortage of commercial pilots has dominated the evening news and prompted some in Congress to consider raising the retirement age for pilots, the transportation industry as a whole is getting older.
A large portion of the transportation industry’s workforce is nearly ten years older than the average American worker (41 years old). About a quarter of the people working in transportation are 55 and up. Although truck drivers are always in short supply, the average age of those currently working in the industry is 50, and nearly one-third are 55 or older.
David Correll, a coworker of mine at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics and the co-director of the FreightLab, has rightly pointed out that “the transportation workforce problem is multimodal, and not limited to only the jobs appearing in the current news cycle—for example, studying the shortage of truck drivers has revealed that there are similar shortages of people to load and unload trucks as well.”
Average transit workers are 53 years old, making them even older than the people they are transporting. Retirement is not an option for those who work in the transportation industry, unlike those of us who sit behind a desk all day.
Technology is often seen as the solution to the talent shortage in the transportation industry. Business strategists and policymakers ignore demographic facts in favor of utopian dreams that drivers will be replaced by driverless vehicles. Autonomous systems will eventually replace human workers in the heavy construction industry. Fewer people will be needed at ports as robots load and unload ships. Maybe, but overnight changes like that only happen in science fiction.
There is a lack of skilled workers to keep today’s cutting-edge infrastructure running smoothly even as some of these technologies are being developed and implemented. For instance, while many people’s fantasies about driverless cars remain firmly in the future, today’s cars already feature high-tech safety features that necessitate the attention of trained mechanics. According to the 2022 CCC Crash Report from the property and casualty insurance industry, there will be a need for 100,000 new auto mechanics to meet the needs of modern technology and the impending retirement of the current workforce.
An entirely new labor force will be needed to implement the electrification of the transportation system. To achieve this goal, it will be necessary to retrain current workers with expertise in internal combustion engines to work on electric vehicles and to teach a new generation of workers how to repair and maintain mechanical and automated systems. In addition, a specialized workforce is needed to construct, operate, and maintain an electricity generation and distribution system to meet unprecedented power demands, which is essential for the successful integration of the nation’s power infrastructure with the transportation system.
The job market isn’t producing enough people to meet that challenge right now. According to a 2018 policy statement, the IEEE estimates that 50% of the energy workforce could retire within the next 5-10 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of an electrical and electronic technician is 49, indicating that there may not be enough qualified young workers to meet the anticipated demand for constructing and maintaining a robust national integrated electric transportation system.
Most people probably picture roads, highways, and cars when they think of the country’s transportation system. It’s not completely wrong, but it’s also not completely right. The millions of people who construct, run, and maintain the nation’s transportation system are an integral part of the system itself. Nearly 10% of the American workforce, according to the United States Department of Transportation.
However, transportation is one of the few industries that is both publicly and privately owned and operates on a global scale. It will need public and private investments now to attract, retain, and reward a talented workforce that can adapt to the nation’s changing needs and new technologies.
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