ATA data points to increased driving turnover and hiring numbers

The ATA reported that during the fourth quarter of 2010, truckload (TL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers bumped up their payrolls, with small truckload carriers boosting employment by 0.8 percent within their driver pool and large TL carriers adding 0.3 percent to payroll by adding linehaul drivers and reducing local driver pools.

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Recent data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) suggests that data pointing to increasing driver hiring and turnover translates into signs of an economic recovery.

The ATA reported that during the fourth quarter of 2010, truckload (TL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers bumped up their payrolls, with small truckload carriers boosting employment by 0.8 percent within their driver pool and large TL carriers adding 0.3 percent to payroll by adding linehaul drivers and reducing local driver pools.

On the LTL side, the ATA reported that fourth quarter employment was up 0.4 percent, with all categories up except for linehaul drivers, which were down 0.2 percent.

Looking at turnover rates, the ATA said that turnover among linehaul drivers at large TL fleets hit 69 percent—on an annualized rate—during the fourth quarter—marking the second highest level since the second quarter of 2008. Small TL fleet fourth quarter turnover was 49 percent, and LTL turnover was significantly less at 6 percent.

“Fleets are clearly hiring more drivers as demand for freight hauling increases,” said ATA Chief Economist BobCostello in a statement. “In addition, while part of the turnover can be attributed to regulatory changes, we believe the bulk of this churn is due to increased demand for drivers. As the recovery strengthens, we’re likely to see demand for drivers and trucking services continue to increase, with that demand manifesting itself in rising turnover rates and ultimately, once again, a shortage of truck drivers.”

Among the regulatory changes that are crimping driver availability and capacity to a certain extent are CSA 2010, a federal government mandate focusing on increasing safety, which took effect in December, and the possible changes to driver Hours-of-Service, which could reduce daily driving time from 11 hours per day to ten.

While the ATA suggests these figures are due in large to an improving economic outlook, FTR Associates Senior Consultant Noel Perry had a somewhat different outlook.

“The trucking data is not an indication of economic recovery,” Perry told LM. “It is an indication of a trucking recovery.  Turnover goes up early in recoveries as drivers who want to change fleets do so.  Truckers have not hired earlier because productivity allowed them to move more freight without hiring.  Now they have to hire to expand.”

While the ATA data focuses on the fourth quarter, Bert Johnson senior director of human resources and driver recruitment, Con-way Truckload, said that Con-way did not see a significant change in hiring needs through the end of the first quarter of this year, explaining that Con-way had drivers waiting on trucks all the way through March.

While Con-way was not experiencing the same trend for the fourth quarter that the ATA reported, Johnson said over the last month “the switch has been turned off,” when it comes to hiring and turnover on the rise.

“We were on a downward trend in regards to turnover, but this last month we have seen an uptick in turnover,” said Johnson. “And because of that we have seen a decrease in recruiting.”

And with demand slowly increasing, coupled with still-tight capacity in the trucking market, gradual economic improvement is resulting in increased turnover and hiring numbers.

Looking ahead, Johnson said driver numbers are likely to increase in the next few months, considering the fact that capacity remains extremely tight right now, which will lead to an increase in the number of drivers.

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About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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