Truck driver shortage to continue

The driver shortage facing the trucking industry will not go away soon, according to results from a survey conducted by HireRight.

HireRight’s survey showed that 79 percent of fleets are looking to add to the workforce but drivers are leaving the industry for more money or a better quality of life.

The industry currently faces a shortage of about 25,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and turnover is so high that the industry needs to hire 96,000 new drivers every year to keep pace.

According to HireRight’s survey, there are several of areas of importance to drivers when making their decisions to leave the field.

More than half, 51 percent, leave for higher incomes, while 41 percent leave to spend more time at home. Better benefit packages are also a draw for 27 percent of drivers who seek other careers. The stress of increasing regulations pushes some drivers to look for other options. The hours of service rule, a pending requirement for electronic logging devices and federal safety scores are among the regulations with the biggest impacts.

To offset the shortage, trucking firms engage in a number of recruiting and retention efforts. Performance bonuses and signing bonuses are two common incentives. Some carriers attempt to draw in new drivers by trying to shape their jobs around the drivers’ preferred locations and home schedules when possible.

To reach potential drivers in the first place, 74 percent of carriers use employee referrals as their top recruiting tools. More than half also use online job boards and print media, while 37 percent of carriers attract candidates through job fairs. Employers are expanding their searches to include some untraditional labor pools such as transitioning military personnel and dislocated workers.

Only 25 percent of carriers employ social media to recruit driver prospects. With smartphone use up among drivers, social media may become an important tool for fighting the driver shortage in the future.

Though the industry is showing strong signs of a recovery, the shortage of drivers is slowing that process.

Eric Starks, president of freight transportation research firm FTR, says his firm estimated the driver shortageat 236,000 in the first quarter of 2014, 43 percent more than a year earlier and the largest shortfall in a decade.

Covenant Transport Group Inc., a long-haul trucking company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee is looking to expand its fleet this year. That means charging more for freight and using most of those profits to attract drivers with higher wages, said CEO David Parker.

“End of the day, our drivers need to be making a whole lot more money,” he said.

Rate increases may push more long-haul cargo to railroads, which can carry double stacked containers at lower prices than trucks. The tradeoff for rail shipments: slower speeds and, this year, a traffic jam on U.S. tracks because of harsh winter weather, a larger harvest and rising crude-by-rail volumes.

“The ability to put more stuff onto the railroads has been completely constrained,” Starks said. “We know shippers have actually taken some freight off the railroads because they can’t get their stuff there in a timely fashion.”

Cliff Beckham, CFO at USA Truck, said the demographics began to change about 20 years ago as fewer people entered the driving field. Now there are more drivers retiring each year than there are ready replacements.

“It’s a long-term problem for the industry,” Beckham said. “We are all reacting to that tightening.” He said USA Truck contracts with several third-party driving schools and is also open to any experienced driver who comes through its doors. Beckham said the allure of the highway doesn’t seem to hold the appeal that it once did.

P.A.M. Transport Services Inc. of Tontitown, Arkansas has to hire about 300 drivers every month, said CFO Allen West.

“It’s an unexpected experience for a new driver out on the road,” West said. “A lot of times it’s more than a person wants to experience again. There’s a certain personality that loves being out on the open road.”

During USA Truck’s quarterly report conference call last month, CEO John Simone said the company had a plan to address driver shortage but he wouldn’t divulge it for competitive reasons.

Beckham said, without specifics, that attracting and keeping drivers involves a two-pronged attack: improve compensation and the culture — in other words, pay the drivers more and make the company more enjoyable to work for.