Japan’s logistics crisis | NHK WORLD-JAPAN News

Demand for home delivery in Japan has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. But it comes as the country’s logistics industry grapples with a growing labor shortage.

There were over a million truck drivers in Japan in 2000, but by 2030 that number is expected to halve. Grueling hours and low wages have made work unpopular, and the rapid aging of Japan’s population means fewer people are entering the workforce globally. It is increasingly difficult for delivery companies to find the staff they need.

Industry analysts predict that by 2030 there will be a 35% gap between delivery demand and the size of the logistics workforce. This scenario would leave a third of the freight in Japan undelivered.

For some, a logistical crisis is already here. Horio Jun, managing director of Ajinomoto, one of Japan’s largest food companies, said a number of delivery partners recently refused to renew their contracts with his company due to a lack of manpower. of work. Companies were offered better terms, but argued they couldn’t find the workforce to meet demand.

Japanese people got a taste of how a logistics crisis could affect their lives early last year when online misinformation fueled a toilet paper shortage. Rumors on social media claimed the item was made from the same material as the face masks, which were in fact sold out. This led to a shopping spree that left supermarket shelves bare. But when retailers tried to get additional inventory, the real problem became clear: logistics. While there was more than enough toilet paper, delivery companies simply couldn’t keep up with the increased demand.

Some companies are taking steps to ensure that this type of short-term crisis does not become more common. Ajinomoto works with other food suppliers to improve the efficiency of deliveries.

In Japan, the average load factor (the percentage of a vehicle’s cargo capacity that is actually used) is around 40%. In Europe and the United States, the figure is around 60 percent. Experts say this is because Japanese consumers tend to be more specific about when they want their products to be delivered, which means fewer orders are shipped together.

Ajinomoto and its partners strive to increase the load factor by standardizing packaging and establishing cooperative distribution networks. Companies are developing their own solutions to reduce the pressure on carriers.

Supply chain technology also comes into play. In February, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry jointly tested the use of a fleet of free delivery trucks. driver. Companies such as Rakuten, Panasonic, and Japan Post are studying how to use drones and robots.

Another solution under study is what is called the “physical Internet”, a transport network built on concepts similar to those of its namesake. Just as data travels through a series of networks and servers, the physical Internet transports goods through a unified route of networks that include various modes of transport. The concept is gaining traction in the European Union, where logistics companies hope to use AI technology to launch a system by 2030.

Experts say that the continued increase in demand for deliveries shows that there is still potential for growth in the logistics industry. The reaction of business leaders and government officials could turn the looming crisis into a new opportunity for Japan.

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