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Supply Chain Discussions Go Mainstream…Unfortunately

This post is the third in a series related to the Q4 2021 Forisk Research Quarterly (FRQ), which includes forest industry analysis, timber price forecasts, and featured research on timber supplies in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the past 10 months, rising inflation and a litany of product shortages (including lumber and structural panels) focused attention on strained supply chains. Truck driver shortages, lean inventories, and backlogs of vehicles waiting to be unloaded featured in national news coverage. As we are witnessing, a disconnect between demand and production and delivery capacity can destabilize the best of supply chains. Everyone is concerned about a shortage of truck drivers canceling Christmas. Who knew Santa drove a Mack truck?

While relieving trucker shortages will not solve the nation’s supply chain issues, it would smooth the flow of goods. The trucking industry needs more drivers as baby boomers retire. Unfortunately, recruiting young employees is a challenge for the trucking industry, as regulations and insurance limit the age of new drivers. In logging, it is unusual to see a truck driver under the age of 25 eligible to drive due to insurance policies. The challenge of recruiting millennials looking for careers is greater for trucking than for logging where in-woods workers don’t face the same age restrictions. In fact, the proportion of in-woods logging workers under 35 years of age increased over the past decade, while the trucking industry and total U.S. workforce saw their proportions holding constant. Notably, only one-quarter of truck drivers are 35 or younger compared to almost a third of the U.S. workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employment trends 2011-2021
Figure. Employment of Logging Workers, Truck Drivers, and U.S. Workforce. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Logging is not free from labor risks either. Reports of in-woods labor shortages are increasing. Growth in the proportion of younger workers comes at a time when older loggers are retiring. The logging industry shrank while the economy grew from 2015 to 2019 (Figure). The dip in 2020 employment was more severe in both the trucking industry and the U.S. workforce than logging, however those industries rebounded (based on Q1 2021 data) while logging employment continues to trend lower. Still, hauling is the weakest link in the wood supply chain, and solutions remain elusive. Continued interest is flowing to third-party hauling providers as a possible turn-key solution, with improved logistics and planning infrastructure to optimize the available hauling capacity.

To learn more about the Forisk Research Quarterly (FRQ), click here or call Forisk at 770.725.8447.

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