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Uncertainty over demand and labor shortages continue to disrupt supply chains

Bowling Green State University supply chain management professor William Sawaya says it could be years before shortages are a thing of the past.

OHIO, USA — It seems like every week there's a new shortage of some kind and it all ties back to supply chains.

But what exactly is "supply chain"?

"If anything is happening in a company, it's probably supply chain related," William Sawaya said.

The pandemic has turned economies upside down for more than a year and a half now. Sawaya teaches supply chain management at Bowling Green State University and says it's affected almost every industry.

"There's never been I think a disaster that has had capacities fluctuate like this has," he said.

Supply chain is not just one thing, it's a process from designing a product, to purchasing the materials to make it, then the logistics, storage, producing it and finally distributing it to customers. COVID has disrupted each of these in some way. 

Sawaya says the complexity of making a product was already an issue pre-pandemic because supplies come from all over the world. But now, there are other issues.

"Uncertainty of demand as things have changed," he added, "and labor shortages that affect the capacity and make it harder to react to the uncertainty of demand."

Sawaya stressed COVID-19 has continued to affect different parts of the world in different ways at different times. Emptying ports and shipping across the country has become a real problem of late.

"I'm hearing reports of six weeks just to ship by train from the west coast to the Midwest," he said, "and normally it's about a week."

Those backlogs have compounded problems with supplies and worker shortages. Any new delay only pushes companies back further. And Sawaya says it could be a while before shortages are a thing of the past.

"They''ll be some relief in terms of transportation backlogs as soon as February, March, maybe even January," he said, "but I don't think it's going to look like normal for a long time."

Uncertainty is still high so the best we can all do as consumers is be patient.