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Can regional haul help with driver retention?

With today’s low unemployment levels, fleets are competing with a number of other fields, which potentially offer higher pay and benefits and competitive soft factors like quality of life.

Depending on who you talk to these days we may or not be having a driver shortage. Among all respondents to a survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, the driver shortage “held firmly atop the list of industry concerns,” the study report said. This is the second consecutive year the driver shortage was atop the list. And a sister concern — driver retention — was among the top three concerns.

However, recently the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that there is little evidence of a driver shortage, but it did concede that there is a driver retention issue. The report said that while long haul trucking has experienced "high and persistent turnover rates for decades, the overall picture is consistent with a market in which labor supply responds to increasing labor demand over time, and a deeper look does not find evidence of a secular shortage." Basically, the report said there is no shortage, as economists would define a shortage.

I think this is another one of those semantic arguments. It seems like I have been commenting a lot on the importance of language lately. And I think we can all agree that the driver is clearly a key asset in a fleet’s ability to move freight and be profitable, just as much as the tractor or trailer.

In this case, whether there is an actual shortage or not, few would argue with the fact that there is a retention issue. And yes I know some fleets turnover is low, but the American Trucking Associations reported at the end of 2017 that driver turnover at large carriers with revenue of more than $30 million was at 90%, and smaller carriers below that threshold had turnover rates of 85%.

It seems to me retention might be the easier problem to solve. One of the biggest takeaways from our recent report, More Regional Haul an Opportunity for Trucking?, was that the growth of regional haul was in part the result of fleets trying to get drivers home more often. You have to remember that given today’s low unemployment levels, fleets are competing with a number of other fields, which potentially offer higher pay and benefits and competitive soft factors like quality of life.

Regional haul speaks to factors like quality of life because it allows drivers to be home on a more regular basis, which is something that many of them are indicating they want. In the past fleets might have focused more on maximizing the efficiency of the tractor and trailer and less on the drivers. Today the driver and his or her needs are playing a bigger role in the way fleets decide to operate. We've seen evidence of this as the average length of haul has been falling over the last several years as fleets try to accommodate drivers’ desires for more time at home.

We plan to keep our eyes on developments in regional haul both from the effect it will have on driver retention but as importantly the effect on the overall freight efficiency of the trucking industry.

We are hoping to have a good benchmark of best in class MPG in the regional haul segment from Run on Less Regional. We’ll be sure to talk to the drivers throughout the three-week event to get their take on a variety of issues including the role of regional haul in driver retention and learn their tips for being fuel efficient in a segment of the market that has some interesting challenges.

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