Analyzing the impact of truck driver demographic changes

Analyzing the impact of truck driver demographic changes

The truck driver population remains dominated by men who are trending older in age, yet on the whole seem relatively satisfied with their jobs as turnover rates continue to fall, while pay and home time remain their top concerns about the profession.

Those are but some of the findings from a recent group of truck driver-focused studies conducted largely within the TL sector by a range of companies and industry trade groups.

Sylectus, a business unit of Omnitracs Canada Inc., recently wrapped up an eight-year analysis of TL driver data collected via its web-based transportation management software (TMS) and noted at a press conference held during the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) meeting this week in Texas that the average age for both male and female truck drivers is on the rise, while the average “tenure” for both genders is declining.

The company said its data crunching determined that the average age of male drivers went up by two years—from 46 to 48 years-old—over the last eight years, with the average age of female drivers increasing by three years, from 48 to 51 years old. Sylectus also found that female drivers are about one to three years older than their male counterparts.

The company also noted that post-recession, the “tenure” of male drivers – i.e. the time spent in the employ at a particular carrier – decreased to less than two years, with Sylectus’ analysis also finding that, on average, fleets will experience a fleet-wide turnover every 18 to 24 months.

Similarly, the tenure of female drivers has decreased to about one year and three months, the company added, noting that what it called this “parallel fluctuation” in tenure is due in part to husband and wife teams, in which one spouse resigns after the other.

Finally, Sylectus’ research found that the current truck driver population remains largely male dominated, with 92% made up by men and just 8% women.

However, another study of TL driver data conducted recently by Professor Timothy Judge of the University of Notre Dame based on Stay Metrics survey data from over 2,300 drivers at 26 carriers, found that driver “satisfaction” levels have remained stable for seven straight seasons – from the summer 2012 through the winter of 2014 – despite adverse economic changes and regardless of seasonal weather-related driving conditions.

Kent Ferguson, director of transportation solutions for background check and employment screening firm HireRight, told Fleet Owner that analysis of data gathered by his company indicates that there are a number of reasons drivers stay at a company.

“The top reason that drivers leave are to make more money (51%), so competitive salaries are critical, but the second reason is to spend more time at home (41%), so many carriers are looking at ways to address this need,” he explained.

Yet Ferguson also noted that a small but growing numbers of carriers surveyed by HireRight (15%) are customizing jobs according to driver preferences, such as allowing drivers to have a five-day work week or to have regional routes. “Upgrading equipment is very important to drivers today as well,” he stressed.

Mark Gardner, CEO, Avatar Management Services, added that perhaps the most critical factor to keeping drivers “satisfied” is to keep them rolling.

“If you do that, they make more money,” he told Fleet Owner. “Home time is often a factor, but one driver’s trash is another’s treasure. The key is to hire drivers along specific freight lanes that get them home commensurate with their needs and wants, not yours.”

And perhaps more carriers are able to keep drivers “rolling," which is why TL turnover rates, while high, continue to fall. According to data tracked by industry trade group American Trucking Assns. (ATA), the turnover rate at large TL carriers fell six percentage points to 91% in the fourth quarter of 2013, though they’ve remained above 90% for eight consecutive quarters now.

“The rate appears to have flattened out at an elevated level for the moment,” noted ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello in a recent statement. “However, it could easily increase as tightness in the labor pool should continue, and even worsen, as the economy improves.”

For all of 2013, ATA’s data indicated that driver turnover averaged 96%, just below 2012’s average of 98% and well off the all-time high of 130% set in 2005.

Turnover at small truckload fleets rose five points in the final quarter of the year to 79%, but that is still below the 82% mark set in the first half of 2012. For all of 2013, turnover at small fleets averaged 82%.

By comparison, turnover in the LTL sector fell two points to 11% in the fourth quarter last year, which was also the average for 2013.

Still, looking ahead to the rest of 2014, Costello said he expects stronger economic growth and increased growth for the trucking industry, which in turn will put more pressure on the driver market and the driver shortage.

“At the moment, we already have 30,000 unfilled jobs for drivers in the trucking industry,” he cautioned. “As the industry starts to haul more because demand goes up, we’ll need to add more drivers – nearly 100,000 annually over the next decade – in order to keep pace.”

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