FARGO — One of the most striking images from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were empty store shelves across the nation. For many, it's not a distant memory.
"Just wait, it's going to get a lot worse," said Reggie Hooten, a warehouse distribution manager with Dakotah Paper Company.
Dakotah Paper is a local wholesale distributor for a variety of goods and industries including packaging, janitorial and food services.
"Everybody's scared about the future, what's going to happen," Hooten said. "And it's going to get worse and worse, because the older generation is still pulling the bulk of this."
He needs at least two more drivers to properly fill the routes to Dakotah Paper's 10,000 local customers—two positions he can't seem to fill. Hooten is hoping to instead train warehouse staff, but that comes with it's own challenges.
"I can't take from one department to take care of the other department without replacements, and getting replacements are tough, too. I'm just like everybody else trying to find workers all across the board," he said.
Hooten added a change to federal law could help trucking companies. As it stands, drivers 18 years of age or older can receive a commercial license, but federal guidelines stipulate drivers must be at least 21 to haul goods over state lines. The Biden administration is now looking at reducing the age limit for cross-state commercial hauling to 18.
"I hope that helps," Hooten said.
Dakotah Paper has also increased wages to keep existing drivers. It's now paying around $60,000 a year for first year drivers. So far the company has kept up with demand and customers are understanding, according to Hooten.
"They see what we're going through, and then they're going through the same thing. So is very, very well accepted," he said.
Over 600,000 drivers are needed to fill the current demand in the supply chain, according to Hooten.