New England supply chain experts decry staffing shortages, call for gov to cut ‘red tape’
By AMY SOKOLOW
Supply chain shortages, which became rampant throughout the last two years of the pandemic, show no signs of slowing down, as the pandemic exposed many of the chain’s vulnerabilities.
“A benefit that has come from this crisis is that people’s IQ on the supply chain has gone up dramatically,” Mike Meyran, the port director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, said at a New England Council roundtable on the topic. “There’s a much greater appreciation for the supply chain and how it affects our economy.”
Because the pandemic slowed down global supply networks, ports became backlogged with excess goods, exposing the need for smaller ports to help out. Thanks to an increase in funding for the nation’s ports, he said, “Boston is starting to really become a valuable asset to shippers,” he said.
He touted Massport’s new $850 million infrastructure project, which now allows it to handle “some of the biggest ships in the world.”
Others pointed to the challenges of the “red tape” holding back companies from speeding up their supply chain processes, especially since COVID-19 increased demand for products shipped through online shopping orders.
“The result of those impacts on the shipping industry makes it clear that we have to accelerate automation, they have to upskill the workforce, automating labor-intensive activities when possible,” said Mark Giuffre, vice president of state government affairs at UPS. “A key step in this approach is also removing some of the regulatory red tape slowing the integration and use of autonomous vehicles.”
He added that an increased uptake in the use of autonomous vehicles would help alleviate the labor shortage while also helping UPS meet demand. He also called on supply chain companies to “proactively engage” with governments of other countries to improve air cargo capacity.
Labor shortages also emerged as a persistent theme across industries.
“We see a massive issue with truck drivers and the number of truck drivers leaving the workforce,” said Gordon Reid, president of Stop & Shop. He added that the remaining truckers have eschewed longer-haul drives for short local routes, further constraining the supply that ends up on the stores’ shelves.
Given the rapidly increased demands for online-ordered goods, engineering and IT talent is also in short order.
“There’s way more demand than there is capacity for Engineering and IT talent,” said Ron Angelo, president and CEO of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. “These are new to this industry, so you think about the promise of ‘Industry 4.0,’ it’s still in its infancy throughout the supply chain.”