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New ATA report focuses on ways to address the truck driver shortage

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
July 17, 2012

As long as I have been covering the freight transportation and logistics sectors, one (of many) prevalent themes I have heard over the years has had to do with the ongoing issue pertaining to the truck driver shortage.

There are obviously many reasons that it is difficult for carriers to hire—and retain—drivers. We have covered them on this Website and in the pages of LM, too. These reasons include things like time spent behind the wheel away from home and salaries, with drivers jumping from one carrier to another for better pay, among others.

Carriers are acutely aware of the driver shortage situation and are doing whatever they can to make driving a truck a more appealing occupation, but the challenges remain and are highly unlikely to subside anytime soon.

This has been well-documented in data provided by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), too. In mid-June, the ATA reported that turnover rates for truckload drivers part of large fleets resumed its pattern of heading up in the first quarter of this year.

This decline marked the fifth time in the last six quarters driver turnover has risen, with the rate declining during the fourth quarter of 2011, which was preceded by four consecutive quarterly declines. ATA officials said that the turnover rate for large truckload fleets moved up 2 percentage points to 90 percent for its highest level since the first quarter of 2008. And the turnover rate for smaller fleets-with less than $30 million in revenue-moved up much higher during the quarter with a 16 percent gain to 71 percent, which was its highest level since the second quarter of 2008.

So, as you can tell, this situation is nothing new. And couple it with tight capacity and carriers not exactly willing to bring more trucks on line until there is increasing evidence of demand to match up with it (it still is not happening in a meaningful way), things are likely to remain in a holding pattern. Meanwhile, with fewer trucks to fill, finding drivers remains a problem all the same.

The ATA not only tracks data on the truck driver situation on a quarterly basis; it also is putting out other kinds of research, too.

Earlier today, it released a report—entitled the Benchmarking Guide for Driver Retention and Recruitment—which it said is aimed at helping fleets recruit and train qualified truck drivers.
Data in the ATA report is based on interviews with more than 50 fleets, which have more than 130,000-plus trucks and oversee more than 155,000 drivers and contractors.

“We found more and more carriers are considering hiring inexperienced drivers and are turning to truck driver training schools to help them place those drivers,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. “Demand for new, inexperienced drivers is likely to increase at a faster pace than in the past. Fifty-six percent of truckload fleets we spoke with said while they currently do not hire inexperienced drivers, they are considering hiring these drivers.”

Among the other findings in the report cited by the ATA was how half of the report’s respondents that had their own truck driver training school and closed it in recent years said they would consider reopening the school if they can’t get enough new drivers from their school partners. But they said this would be a last resort and that they would prefer not to reopen the school.

The driver shortage situation is real and not going away anytime soon. Carriers are making strides but more needs to be done. And the ATA needs to be commended for providing fleets with this data at the ready to be able to tackle the problem head-on. With trucking trucking’s share of total tonnage expected to increase by 2 percentage points to 69.6 percent by 2023, and its share of freight revenue heading up to 81.7 percent from 80.9 percent, according to ATA data, drivers need to hire hired, trained, and, yes, retained for carriers and shippers to better collaborate on supply chain success.

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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