Signs point to renewed driver shortage

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The trucking industry should expect a renewed driver shortage, said a panel of carriers and recruiting experts at the 2003 Randall Trucking Symposium.

“As tonnage increases, we expect demand for new drivers to create a driver shortfall,” said Gordon Klemp, president of The National Transportation Institute, which publishes the National Survey of Driver Wages. “The result of this will be a very sharp increase in driver pay.”

Klemp, whose company surveys more than 400 fleets, said company driver wage differences “between the strongest payers and the lowest payers has been narrowed” since 1998. Between 2001 and 2002, the one-fourth of carriers paying the lowest wages increased pay 3.1 percent, while other carriers had little or no change.

Carrier panelists said traditional driver entrants are harder to find.

“The potential owner-operator is disappearing,” said Chuck Johanns, recruitment and retention analyst for Dart Transit. In many cases, new drivers lack the work ethic to succeed, he said.
Many new drivers are young people straight out of driving school who have little familiarity with trucks, said Jeff Wilmarth, president of Silver Arrow Express, a 27-truck dry van carrier. “The old farm boy’s not there anymore,” he said.

Johanns said another growing problem with recruiting is the demand for regional routes to increase home time. “It’s very difficult, and it’s going to get worse,” he said. For owner-operators, “Bonuses are starting to be paid again.”

Klemp said 72 percent of the publicly traded fleets he surveyed last summer said they expected to grow largely by using owner-operators. “It’s going to stay awfully competitive,” he said.

Some new drivers will be drawn from women and minorities, panelists said, but those groups still might not fill the demand. “Some large carriers are positioned to be very aggressive in this area,” Klemp said. “They’ll try to steal any drivers you’ve got.”

Some of the trends in recruitment that Klemp cited include more use of dedicated routes – “anything that allows the company to trade home time for pay” – and greater use of per diem pay as part of overall compensation. In such programs, carriers pay a lower mileage rate that is made up partly by per diem meal payments and partly from lower taxes, due to reduced taxable income. Using an example of a driver logging 2,200 miles per week, the net savings could be $66 a week, or 3 cents per mile, Klemp said.

“It’s a great recruiting tool,” said Wilmarth, whose company has used such a program successfully for five years.