The first quarter of 2017 showed truck driver turnover for large carriers (revenues more than $300 million) at a rate of 74 percent. While most businesses would blush at such a high number—even the notoriously transient restaurant/hospitality industry only averaged 72.9 percent in 2016—the trucking industry has actually experienced a LOW volume of turnover over the past two years, relative to other recent years.
This all leads to the unspoken question of, “What’s considered a HIGH rate of turnover for freight carriers?” The answer may surprise you. 2012 and 2015 showed rates that exceeded 100 percent—106 percent and 102 percent to be exact—meaning that many companies were completely changing out their driver pool within a year’s time and then some. It’s a sobering fact to consider as you’re on the highway going 65 miles per hour next to a driver who probably hasn’t even logged that many weeks with his or her current company or route, not to mention the real possibility that the individual is new to the industry altogether.
Yet, even with such high turnover, trucking is in the midst of a worrisome shortage of drivers. In 2015, the driver shortage was estimated to be between 35,000 and 40,000. Now, new projections show that 2017 could come up short by as many as 100,000 drivers. This potentially means more stress and more time on the road for existing drivers, equating to a higher threat to the safety of other drivers. Sure, many large-scale carriers are starting to look at hi-tech solutions like driverless trucks and platooning technology, but the safety issue still remains, and such a reality could be years down the road. Others point out that it’s not just the U.S. experiencing this phenomenon, as the United Kingdom and parts of Europe are witnessing a similar trend. As unemployment in the United States continues to fall and other industries continue to grow, the outlook for long-haul trucking might be a dim one.
Some believe that a different pay structure or incentives such as free training, better advancement opportunities or other benefits could entice more of the workforce into these jobs. Such perks would also encourage employees to operate at a higher standard, which would most likely include watching out for the safety of people like you and me. An hourly pay structure might result in significantly lower turnover, since now, many drivers are not paid for time when they sit and wait to load or unload.
Whatever the solution, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. No industry should have such a high turnover rate. Hopefully this number will continue to decrease as it has in recent years as a lower level of turnover hints at a higher level of commitment—an admirable trait for those who are behind the wheel of these big trucks with which we share the road.