A guest article by John Schilli, Director of Transportation, Henkel Consumer Brands North America
Throughout human history, transportation has been the lifeblood of any flourishing civilization. In modern times, however, it has been easy to take reliable transportation — and the approximately 3.5 million truckers on U.S roads — for granted. But make no mistake: Truck drivers are heroes.
What these individuals go through to provide essential goods and conveniences is remarkable. The contributions of truck drivers to our economy, society, and our lives, cannot be emphasized enough.
For many years, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies like Henkel operated in an extremely stable market. Product supply and demand were all highly predictable, and transportation readily available. As a result, the transportation function often lived in the background, operating like a well-oiled machine.
That all changed in 2020 with the arrival of COVID-19. Almost overnight, a stable market turned chaotic, as consumers — primarily in the United States — began panic buying. Suddenly, shoppers could no longer go to a single store and get everything they needed. Some essential items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer were hard for consumers to find.
While consumer demand was surging, trucking companies were having difficulty attracting new talent (due to having proximity to trainers inside truck cabs). Meanwhile, seasoned truck drivers were retiring at an alarming rate as the pandemic made a difficult job nearly impossible.
The truck drivers who remained on the roads during the pandemic faced unprecedented hurdles to provide essential goods for consumers. Imagine, for example, driving all night only to find the warehouse closed due to an outbreak of COVID, leaving you with a delivery you could not make (and in some circumstance, without running water close by).
In the wake of the pandemic, a new normal has set in that has made it increasingly difficult to get products to shelves. For those of us who work in transportation, the game has forever changed, and we must continue to evolve. And that is exactly what we’re doing at Henkel.
Navigating a New Normal
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, the top reasons for resignations between April 2021 and April 2022 were lack of career development and lack of meaningful work. Today, under the “new normal”, meaningful work is plentiful in the transportation function— whether you work on the corporate side or on our roads, oceans, and railroads.
Internally at Henkel, we continue to focus on attracting, developing, and retaining exceptional employees to work with our transportation partners. We have also embraced strategies to significantly improve our on-time and our drop loading capabilities. (Drop loading maximizes efficiency by allowing the truck driver to drop off the trailer when delivering a load and immediately pick up a new trailer and load at the same time.)
At our distribution centers, we are integrating Industry 4.0 innovations to optimize storage space, accelerate digital automation, and enhance the efficiency of pickups and deliveries. Measures like these increase driver satisfaction by allowing them to get back on the road more quickly.
Henkel has added to its carrier base, launched engagement programs to help our transportation partners feel part of the Henkel team, and has also invested driver amenities such as showers at some distribution points. Frequent, transparent communications are at the heart of these engagement efforts.
For example, we have synchronized our data sharing with key carrier partners to provide timely updates on key metrics, such as on-time delivery and pickup. We also hold biweekly meetings with carrier management and host a monthly town hall with carrier staff and executive teams to discuss business priorities, progress, and challenges.
More than ever, we want to create lasting partnerships with carriers who share our commitment to the customer, as well as values like safety, sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Unwelcome though it was, the COVID crisis shined a spotlight on transportation’s importance to companies, consumers, and our society as a whole.