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Trucking news: Various factors pointing towards another truck driver shortage

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By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
May 27, 2010

As trucking capacity continues to tighten and freight demand returns, many freight transportation stakeholders maintain that the specter of a future truck driver shortage is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’

This was made clear earlier this month by Charles W. “Chuck” Clowdis, Managing Director, Transportation Advisory Services, at IHS Global Insight, in a research note.

“It is…extremely likely that a repeat of driver shortage will return and intensify as drivers turn instead to construction and other jobs as the economy recovers,” wrote Clowdis.

Talk regarding a driver shortage, like economic booms and busts, is highly cyclical. And in industry circles, it appears a shortage may be coming sooner than later.

Along with tightening capacity and supply and demand ostensibly reaching an inflection point, another driver for a potential scramble for drivers is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA), which was scheduled to kick off this year but was recently moved to 2011.

CSA is a procedure which will dictate how the federal government rates trucking companies and drivers. It will be rolled out in November and continue in phases into 2011. The FMCSA decided to delay it due to concerns from the trucking industry over fairness concerns.

As LM has previously reported, shippers should be concerned about the new safety rating program for one major reason: it could raise their trucking rates. That’s because the program potentially could reduce the available driver pool by as much as 7 percent, thus reducing truck capacity at a time when the economic recovery is expected to stress the already reduced over-the-road capacity of many fleets.

What’s more, results from a recent Transport Capital Partners’ survey of truckload carriers showed only half of the carriers were ready for CSA 2010. TCP, a leading firm in transportation mergers and acquisitions, capital sourcing and advisory services, uses the quarterly survey to collect the insights and opinions of executives nationwide in order to report on the current state of the truckload industry and future expectations.

And while some carriers will need additional drivers, it does not translate into hiring and training prospects into a sure thing, according to FTR Associates, a freight transportation forecasting firm.

In a recent report, FTR explained that “while there are sufficient numbers of experienced drivers looking for work the fleets have pared down their hiring and training departments so severely during the recent downturn that most will be challenged to process a sufficient number of drivers to fill previously parked trucks…[with] the industry’s hiring ability” cut by one third.

“Anecdotally we have heard that driver suppliers are tightening up and with that companies tend to change their hiring tactics slightly,” said Clayton Boyce, American Trucking Associations spokesman. “They do more active outreach and recruiting, and if they had suspended operations of their driver training schools, they may have re-opened them. What that does for qualified candidates is remove the burden of having to pay to attend a school, because a company will train and teach them.”

Boyce added that carriers also tend to entice candidates through an attractive benefit and pay package.

About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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