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Transportation Companies Navigate Challenges on the Road Ahead

By Diane Sacra, Director of Marketing, Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc.

Diane Sacra, Director of Marketing, Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc.

When your business is commercial trucking, you get used to climbing some hills along the way. With increased and demanding changes in both the transportation industry and the B2B marketplace overall, companies like Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc., know firsthand how important it is to navigate the challenging road ahead. Among the many issues Universal is facing are a national labor shortage, government regulatory changes, and an impending election year, just to name a few.

“Because Universal has been a transportation expert for more than 85 years and we are no strangers to a fluctuating environment, we are continually monitoring the marketplace not only for opportunities, but also potential obstacles. Our experience has taught us this: there is always more change to come,” said TimPhillips, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Universal’s Transportation Division.

In an industry that is facing a national labor shortage that shows no sign of slowing down, and with an average driver age in the late forties, Universal, like all transportation companies, is working harder than ever to continue to attract skilled driving talent. “Getting the Universal message out, offering attractive sign-on bonuses and other key benefits, and building a company culture that puts people first, are among the many things we are doing to recruit the best drivers on the road,” said Phillips.

In addition to a labor shortage, Phillips said that political and regulatory changes are top on list of challenges Universal faces, now and in the future, as the company provides its transportation and logistics solutions across many industries. One such change that has created some definite challenges within the transportation industry and for companies like Universal is continued developments with Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). These Hours of Service (HOS) tracking devices, which are intended to keep the roads and its travelers safer,were first mandated in late 2015 and have caused some definite transitions for drivers, transportation companies, and shippers alike.

“Whenever you have widespread, mandated changes such as the use of ELDs, it’s certainly reasonable to expect some growing pains along the way as the technology is adopted and integrated,” Phillips said. “New processes typically create a learning curve as ELDs have for the transportation industry. Fortunately, at Universal, we have never been the kind of company to promote a, ‘but we’ve always done it this way,’ mentality. Rather, we have been using robust training and communication programs to accelerate adoption of these changes.”

This year, further implementation continues with the ELD mandate requiring all AOBRDs to be transitioned to the new devices by mid-December. Universal anticipates some additional work to be done in getting the word out and also in helping drivers still using the AOBRD technology to make the move to ELDs.

Because transportation is an industry that is subject to regulation, Phillips said that the election year in 2020 could likely have some additional changes for Universal and other transportation companies to manage. “From potential new legislation, to possible changes in tariffs, and economic and foreign policies, either a second-term existing or brand new administration can certainly have much impact on our industry.” Phillips added, “We continue to monitor all of our environments, including political and regulatory, so that we are proactive and not reactive to changes.”

In addition to all of these current and anticipated future changes, Universal is experiencing other industry issues, including increased competition from digital brokers and large retailers becoming their own intermodal transportation providers. But according to Phillips, with increased challenges, come opportunities.

“Change can be a great thing, especially when you have built an organization that knows how to navigate it and can seek out new and better ways to be a resource to its customers. When you put people first, offer solid products and services, build the right technology-based infrastructure, and truly listen to the needs of the marketplace, then you are in a great position to manage whatever new challenges come your way. That is what we continue to do at Universal as we bring transportation and logistics to our customer partners… we adapt and keep moving ahead.”

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