Is there really a driver shortage? Driver shortage series, Part 3

By Kevin Jones on

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Note: This is the final part of a three-part series that examines the trucking industry’s driver shortage and the impact it is having and will have on fleets, shippers, drivers, rates, capacity and the industry as a whole. Click here to see Part 1, which is an introduction to the series and details how shippers are preparing for a capacity crunch. Click here to see Part 2, which breaks down the challenges trucking companies face in finding qualified drivers.

Maybe, maybe not

The exception to the driver shortage rule could be small carriers, says David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

“We don’t have a driver shortage yet, but if the end result of CSA is to imply that 35 percent of drivers are always fatigued, unsafe or unfit, it won’t take many cycles to have to come up with a robot for a driver,” Owen says. “It’s a self-created shortage by the agency. I don’t know if that was their goal.”

At small truckload fleets, the turnover rate rose to 82 percent in the first quarter of 2013 from 76 percent in the 2012 fourth quarter, ATA reported. Turnover at small truckload fleets in the third quarter of 2012 was 94 percent.

carrier concerns graph

But Owen questions the validity and value of driver turnover data as it pertains to small trucking companies, where losing just one driver can result in a big number. More to the point, the smaller carriers in the organization report the lowest turnover rates – about 15 percent – and the rate climbs with the fleet’s size.

“A lot of my members say they turn ’em over when they want to,” Owen says. “The problem for the large fleets is they can find guys – they just can’t keep them. They don’t keep them because they cannot get them home every weekend and get consistent miles. It was true before, and it’s true now.”

The small carriers, Owen adds, routinely receive applications from qualified drivers, but they don’t have open trucks.

“It’s a different mindset down here,” he says.

Likewise, many owner-operators are skeptical about company claims of a driver shortage, says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“A tight driver market would mean better pay, better rates, better service in the loading and unloading environment,” he says. “It would include things that would encourage retention and recognize years of safe driving. If we had a tight driver market, you would see those things.”

Instead, he says, “There’s sort of a myth that floats around that because companies buy more trucks than they have drivers for, then they have a driver shortage. That’s not a shortage. When a third or more shippers say they’re having a hard time finding trucks, then we have a shortage.”

As for truck rates and driver wages, Spencer says the rise of the transportation broker has taken money out of the pockets of carriers and truck drivers alike.

“We have a surplus of people who have recognized the way to make money in trucking is not in operating the truck – it is in arranging transportation,” he says. “They are taking a slice out of the middle. They’ve skewed the revenue stream to where there’s not really enough to encourage people to view driving as a career. It’s not good.”

Lessons learned

Carrier management seems to have learned some hard lessons – at least those truckers who survived the recession, says Noël  Perry, with FTR Consulting Group. Along with anecdotal evidence, his analysis of new truck purchases confirms that carrier management is being careful with discretionary spending.

“Trucking executives are much more conservative than they’ve been in the past,” Perry says. “They’ve been very conservative with respect to capacity, and very conservative with hiring drivers.”

And that’s a good thing, adds Tom Kretsinger Jr., president and chief operating officer of American Central Transport and current chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association.

“Historically, the first time truckers get a little bit of leverage, they decide they want to grow, and then they buy some trucks, and that solves the problem,” Kretsinger says. “A lot of those folks went broke during the recession, and the ones that are still around are a little smarter. I think a lot of us are really zeroed in on how we can get more profits with all the risk and borrowing and potential lawsuits we have to put up with. How can we stabilize our drivers so they’re not churning at 80, 90, 100 percent or more per year? That’s the smart play.”

The importance of driver recruiting, training and retention is “the universal issue in trucking that everyone agrees on,” Kretsinger says. “The problem isn’t with quantity – it’s with quality.

“Things have changed,” he says. “It used to be that just a few people would want to hire the best drivers and pay them. Now everyone wants the best drivers. If you’re a good driver with a good record, there’s a pretty high demand for you. The problem is there are not a lot of guys out there. For every one of those, there’s 10 that don’t look that good.”

And the “good” news, while an immediate challenge, is that the shortage of skilled drivers indeed will keep a lid on capacity.

“If we go to 2.5 or 3 percent GDP growth, it doesn’t sound like a freight train, but I don’t think there will be enough trucks on the road to haul the freight,” Kretsinger says. “Looking at the skill it takes and the sacrifice, a truck driver should be worth a lot more money in a logical world. But we’re not in a logical world– we’re in a supply-and-demand world. The pendulum will swing at some point.”

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: kevin.jones@randallreilly.com.

8 comments
GettingOlder Everyday
GettingOlder Everyday

I am compelled to agree with some of the other posters here, in that there really ISN'T a driver shortage, just a shortage of due respect and appreciation for the qualified drivers that do exist.  There are many like me, fully qualified and experienced but choosing not to run for so many reasons.  The seemingly endless days and weeks away from home and family, constantly changing rules and regs, mostly brought by clueless government agencies being prodded by marginal special-interests, and companies that worship profit above all else, even when they CAN serve both.

 

If you really want to change, here's one suggestion: pay all drivers by the hour.  For EVERY hour they are on duty, driving or not (which would or course include those waiting times for loading, unloading, waiting to get dispatched to that next load, breakdowns, road-side inspections, etc).  With the electronic logs and monitoring, documentation should be less of a problem, so take those hours and pay the driver by the hour (and I'm talking at VERY LEAST minimum per-hour wage).  Yes, I can already hear the crying and whining, but if you really think about it, it would force a LOT of companies to get their S%$* straightened out, or get out of the business.

 

One other thought, and this is aimed more at those aforementioned clueless government agencies, and admittedly kind of off-topic, but...it seems we are constantly being saddled with changes in HOS.  While YES, it would invoke a lot more haggling at a time when we honestly need less, but at some point I think it would benefit all of us if we could acknowledge that, at least when it comes to HOS, we need something other than a "one size fits all" approach.  There are so many different and varied types of trucking operations that we need to look at these and adapt to them, instead of always insisting that the companies and their drivers adapt to one standardized set of rules.  There would be a lot of ways this could be approached, and I don't have all the answers, but maybe it's food for thought.  Thanks for listening...

markrobert murphy
markrobert murphy

kudo

ohn the frght brkkers- ahnd hyp hyp horray - ohn  whn the pendlm wyill swing....qwality.keyy word  rember it knott a job for evry whone..however.whon mght styill be a frnt runner - whn  pay/paks a reeal demyise for others that dwnt live in a mobil trl ....respctfly-  further GDP..pyinnwhell the  grownd frght -[ fed ex air] ...oh wyinter drivin/should be the drp/hk poyint forr all east ov the missippi frght lyin hauls...w exp north east runnerz pikk in upp frm ther....lets face the weather pa ny  state sno sawils -rayne /fog.....its  knot a per mi pay/in the areas of badd weather..its  pyisicly draing.tyiresum- so pay shouldnt be ohn a drvs myind.adding to road/hyipnatisem [ road stare]...u live in the north east ure a mch morr exp top driver then  respctfully  ..playine midwst  drivers............thnx  mrmm/ m r x

 

Cliff Downing
Cliff Downing

Todd Spencer, in typical OOIDA fashion, wants to blame brokers.  The brokers fill a niche, that is all.  Many shippers do not want to play games with carriers and when  carrier can't step up, then the shipper has to find another carrier.  Just let a broker handle all the stuff and then the shipper can worry about what they do. No different than any other aspect of the economy.  Some folks would rather have someone else change the oil in their car, even though they could do it better and cheaper themselves.  Time is a commodity also.  Some folks would just prefer that someone else handle the details for them.  And yes, that means that part of the take on a freight bill will go to the entity doing that.  

br213
br213

My paycheck driving a school bus, is only about $50.00 a week off from my paycheck when I was driving OTR truck.    With the school bus, I get to be with my family every day, I do not miss birthdays, anniversaries or the like.  My stress level has decreased greatly, and I am not put in the middle of my dispatcher, and the shipper/receiver on long dock times.  In between my morning and afternoon bus routes, I work at a convienience store, and bring home almost $250 a week,  So I am making an extra 800 to 1000 more a month.  There is not a driver shortage, there is a wage shortage.  When I can work two "part time" jobs which take up 45 hours of my week, and make $200 more a week, than when I was working 60-70 hours, and I was never at home to enjoy my family.  Drivers are getting fed up, and saying enough.

gearjmmr
gearjmmr

 “Looking at the skill it takes and the sacrifice, a truck driver should be worth a lot more money in a logical world. But we’re not in a logical world– we’re in a supply-and-demand world. The pendulum will swing at some point.”

 

It has no choice but to swing! Of course, that swing will bring with it higher prices for everything because everything comes by truck. Am I advocating for the status quo? Not on your life! I am a driver who thinks those same companies that are now realizing the value of all the driver resources they have squandered through indifference will find ways to leverage their importance to the economy in order to justify higher wages for drivers. That means everyone will now pay more for everything. The ones with the ability to do so will drive the cycle of inflation while the ones least able to will either shrink or starve in the midst of plenty.

 

But it couldn't happen to a more deserving group of people. They are those people who considered the principles of company culture in driver retention as "touchy-feely" issues to be ignored or ridiculed. The chickens have come home to roost! Let the ripping and tearing begin. When it is over, the occupation of driving a commercial vehicle over long distances will either emerge as a profession with all due respect and recognition; or it will become just another drab job burdened by undue and unnecessary rules and regulations. And if we think it is becoming difficult now to find highly qualified drivers to hire, think about what will happen when the bulk of Baby Boomers (veteran drivers with excellent qualifications, experience, and exemplary records) retire.

 

Anyone up for a game of Monoply? A "supply-and-demand" world? More like a "dog-eat-dog" world. To attempt to mitigate the coming ramifications by not openly acknowledging them is just the willful act of ignoring the emperor's new clothes.

 

Tudaloo!  

DanielKupke
DanielKupke

I am a OO that has spent allmost 10 years overseas driveing in a War Zone and over 35 years now total on the open road ??!!! I have owned n bought n paid for 4 trucks n trailers and the only company truck driveing I've done was in those War Zones ??!! I only have 5 or 6 points total on this so called CSA Score that the Gov tells me that they put no points towards a driver but yet when I apply to lease to a company I get this same figure ?? IF I WAS to drive a company truck I understand that u can't make any $$ going home every weekend and I don't mind being out 2 or even 3 weeks at a crack but when it is time to go home I wouldn't want any games at that point either ?? But yet I keep hearing storys about drivers being forced to stay out over a month at a time ?? Also I would not want any games with this fingerprinting loads off or on to the truck ?? I am the driver I transport the load from point A to point B period ?? Also pay me for my time especially the time I spent loading n unloading-- fueling --doing anything other than driveing ect ect ?? Here again I hear these storys about guys sitting around and not being paid ?? U companys don't want to pay for this then have a empty or loaded trailer waiting for me when I get to a del or pickup point ?? But even then I'm going to want a decent wage for swaping out that trailer ?? IF A DRIVER WAS TREATED RIGHT and LEFT ALONE and NOT HASSELLED BY THE COMPANY and THESE TRUCKING COMPANYS GETTING TOGETHER TO MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE TO WORK ?? (Like going together in these states n pushing for the DOT N SCALEHOUSE's to leave us alone !!) N Yes this can be done !! Can u imagine the effect if u had even 50% of the carriers in any given state contacting their state n fed gov telling them that they r tired of the hassels at the scalehouses n roadside DOT inspections n fight for common sence rules would have ?? These senators and congressmen and women would sit up n take notice !!!! But as long as we r given only what we have to work with it will never get any better !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  THERE IS NO DRIVER SHORTAGE but A SHORTAGE OF DRIVERS (ESPECIALLY GOOD SEASONED SAFE DRIVERS) THAT R WILLING TO PUT UP WITH THE ONGOING GAMES FROM ANY OF THESE GROUPS OF PEOPLE ??? Whether it's the company they work for or the DOT n Scalehouse people !!!!!!!!!!!!!!  That is what pushed me to park my equip n go overseas to begin with n what kept me there all those years ?? Also n here again it was the $$ that was offered to go over there ?? So there u have it boys n girls $$ n being in a area where u r not hasseled by the companys or the dot n scalehouse n people will work n be there ?? Of course now most of the time over here u r not in a War Zone either but here again what exactly is a War Zone ?? U think u r not in one because u can;t see the Taliban shooting at u ?? What r the DOT n Scalehouse people doing to u every time they write u up for some-thing ?? They r takeing away your ability to drive n make a liveing for yourself through this point thing from CSA ?? The same thing (in my book) as being injured in a Taliban attack ?? How many hits can u take ??????  

 

THINK ABOUT IT !! 

bigcornbread
bigcornbread

we did not have shortages until csa now we have fresh out of school drivers lets see how many accidents we have now companies hire them to keep there csa scores down but 1 or 2 trips to a bad scale see what happens to there score or a few bad accidents

peaveypro
peaveypro

CSA/FMCSA rules and regulations will run off the SAF established drivers, to be replaced by a barely english speaking driver who doesnt mind living in a truck for a month and getting paid less, because in there country LESS is RICH....