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ATA reports driver turnover rates head up for third straight quarter

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
September 28, 2011

As expected, the driver turnover rate continues to increase, according to data from the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

In its most recent edition of the Trucking Activity Report, the ATA reported that the turnover rate for over-the-road truckers hit 79 percent in the second quarter of 2011, marking the third straight quarter of increased turnover rates in the driver market.

The most recent turnover rate is up from 75 percent in the first quarter and is the highest turnover rate since the second quarter of 2008, according to the ATA.

The ATA reported that turnover at small truckload companies and less-than-truckload fleets dropped to 47 percent from 50 percent for small truckload firms and to 6 percent from 8 percent for LTLs.

“Even though the increase was small, we still believe the market for quality drivers is getting extremely tight and fleets are aggressively recruiting to fill their openings,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “The slowdown of the economic recovery has affected the turnover rate, but if the economy continues to improve we’ll see further tightening in the driver market and a renewed risk of a severe driver shortage.”

As LM has reported, driver turnover and tight capacity are two things that clearly go hand in hand in the trucking industry, especially during the current tight market conditions, spurred on by a stalled economic recovery and the December 2010 implementation of CSA, as well as possible changes to truck driver hours-of-service regulations (a final HOS rule is expected in late October).

And unless capacity is added by major trucking players, it is likely that turnover will continue at its current rate, say industry experts.

“Even if carriers were buying trucks, they still cannot find drivers,” said Lana Batts, partner at Transport Capitol Partners, in a recent interview. “In order for carriers to attract and retain drivers, rates will need to rise from where they are today. Rate hikes will go to driver pay first even though unemployment is still nearly ten percent. Possible driver candidates are collecting unemployment with a cash job on the side—and are also home every night.”

Industry experts have long stated that increased truck driver turnover should not be misinterpreted as being driven by strong economic activity and should not be viewed as a driver of an economic recovery.

Instead, it is viewed more as a trucking recovery, with turnover rising early in recoveries as drivers who want to change fleets do so.  Adding to this is that truckers have not hired earlier because productivity allowed them to move more freight without hiring.

Michael Hanley, vice president of operations, at The CDL School, a New York- and Florida-based driver training school told LM that when the turnover “churn” heads up, the restrictions for hiring loosen up and allow schools to recruit more students.

“We are seeing this trend in our business also,” said Hanley. “The CDL school is receiving double our normal requests from fleets of 200-to-300 vehicles needing drivers with three months or more experience. Since our database reaches back seven years we are finding that these companies are willing to pay placement fees—which was previously unheard of—to recruit these drivers. This is caused by CSA and tight freight capacity, as well as an entry level shortage.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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