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Market dynamics of bulk shipping

The market dynamics we’re seeing in bulk shipping are the most extreme since Odyssey’s inception. We’ve experienced a great deal of change, but this current environment of driver and capacity shortages is more challenging – especially for our bulk clients. Fortunately, we have a new solution – but first, let’s look at the scope of the problem we’re facing in the industry.
Depending upon which study you read, there are about 63,000 vacant truck driver jobs in the bulk tanker market alone. Tenured drivers, typically seven years older than average labor pools, are aging out and retiring at an alarming rate. The driver shortage problem is likely to continue deepening at least through 2026. That’s five solid years of decline. Just getting bulk driver levels back to normal would require carriers to hire and train about 174,000 new drivers between now and the end of the dip in five years. There are new drivers coming into the industry, but not fast enough or in great enough numbers to ease the pressure for bulk shippers. Of course, this driver shortage is the case across all areas of the trucking landscape, but because of the specialized skills involved, it’s worse in the bulk transportation space.

To entice drivers, carriers are spending money trying to lure experienced bulk specialists away from their current employers, causing changes in the market that lead to turmoil for carriers and, in turn, delays and higher costs for shippers.

The bulk shipping experts and technology teams at Odyssey began studying this problem when it first became evident in 2020. We carefully separated facts from conjecture and distilled a clear picture of demand and capacity in the bulk market. As part of that study, we also identified where there might be inefficiencies in carrier-shipper relationships and communication. We also looked for entirely new ways to address the problem, with a focus on technology-aided solutions. After months of development, we have a solution to ease our customers’ pain.

Odyssey offers an analytics-driven technology platform that does more than help book loads. It’s an intelligent system that provides insights into the driving factors of the bulk carrier market. The interesting thing about our new platform is that it’s based on the reality that bulk shipping is highly relationship-driven. These insights allow shippers to better understand network dynamics — and how they as shippers can more positively influence those dynamics based on their decisions. The technology provides data and insight that allows Odyssey and its customers to test “what-if” scenarios. “What if we paid more for certain loads or lanes? What if we asked our customers which shipments they absolutely needed by certain dates and which ones could move out without affecting business outcomes? What if we established relationships with a new set of carriers that we hadn’t considered before?”

We’re just getting this new technology into the field and for the shippers and carriers who have deployed so far, the results have been terrific. Shippers are becoming more aware of the realities of the bulk market and the importance of technology and partnerships in creating agile solutions.

Given the alarming demographics of the bulk driver market, it seems that a combination of technology and relationship building is the best path forward. We believe we have the right platform. It’s all about collaboration and efficiency and linking carrier preferences with shipper business goals. We’d be happy to give you a peek behind the curtain and show you what we mean. If you’re interested, contact your Odyssey account manager. And if you know of smart, capable young people looking for a solid career, point them to the nearest bulk carrier.

Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle

Vice President, North America Managed Logistics Services

Odyssey Logistics

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