Driver demand outpacing supply

Driver demand outpacing supply

Recent reports indicate more pay and enhanced benefits and incentives have done little to assuage the trucking industry’s lack of drivers

Recent reports indicate more pay and enhanced benefits and incentives have done little to assuage the trucking industry’s lack of drivers.

“Things are still pretty bad out there in terms of driver availability,” Eric Starks, president of Nashville, IN-based consulting firm FTR Associates, told FleetOwner. “We’re calculating right now, based on the freight demand out there, that the industry will be short 123,000 drivers for the first quarter this year.”

Starks added that while new drivers are coming into the industry, they are simply not keep up with demand. According to FTR’s research, demand for new drivers is growing at a 4% annual rate, while actual new driver availability is growing at less than 1% per year. “That’s what is really killing the industry,” he said.

“Driver and independent contractor availability continues to be seriously limited for our [truckload] segment, as well as the industry’s, and we see no signs of fundamental improvement for the foreseeable future,” said Kirk Thompson, president & CEO of TL carrier Lowell, AR-based J. B. Hunt Transport Services.

“The driver recruiting and retention market [remains] extremely challenging,” said Clarence Werner, chairman, president & CEO of Omaha, NE-based TL carrier Werner Enterprises.

“The supply of qualified truck drivers continues to be constrained due to alternative jobs to truck driving that are available in today's economy. Also, the competitive market among truckload carriers for recruiting experienced drivers, student drivers, and owner-operator drivers has intensified,” he continued.

To combat those pressures, Werner said his strategy is to continue focusing on driver quality of life issues, such as developing more driving jobs with more frequent home time, providing drivers with newer trucks, and maximizing mileage productivity within the federal hours of service (HOS) regulations.

Dale Lawless, president of Lowell, AR-based consulting firm LPS Inc., said that while retaining experienced drivers is getting easier as fleets spend more on pay packages, recognition programs, and better equipment, finding and retaining new drivers will remain extremely difficult.

“Plenty of people are coming out of truck driving schools – but when you look at that closely, no more than 3 out of 10 remain in the industry after a year,” he told FleetOwner. “Fleets are focusing on building up more regional runs to create more home time and make life easier in the truck, but they need to start focusing on ways to better manage a driver’s down time.”

Lawless said the key to recruiting and retention is to create driver career paths and back them up with educational opportunities on the road.

“The industry needs to develop driver categories – beginner, qualified, experienced, and master levels – and put more incentives behind reaching each level,” he explained. “We also must help the driver better manage their downtime when they are stuck at a truck stop for eight or 10 hours. We need to give them better resources, such as online access to driving skill reviews, load securement training, hazmat renewal, even simple things such as tax courses to help explain possible deductions. We need to help them develop better business skills so they’ll stay in the industry longer.”

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