For-hire truck drivers are mostly staying with their employers at current pay during the coronavirus pandemic. They are eager for stability in an uncertain time.
That is the finding of the National Transportation Institute, which tracks driver pay and retention through surveys of hundreds of fleets.
“Turnover is at record lows at most fleets we survey,” Leah Shaver, CEO of the Institute, said during a WavesTalk on the second day of the virtual FreightWaves Carrier Summit on Thursday.
Unlike 2018, a banner year for driver pay as spot rates soared amid super-heated freight demand, 2020 shows “no meaningful upward movement” in driver pay. Sign-on bonuses are unnecessary because fleets aren’t doing a lot of recruiting. Two years ago, many drivers jumped from carrier to carrier to collect the cash. Driver turnover reached 100%.
“Pay improvements have been few and far between during this period,” Shaver said. “They are really isolated to fleets that had marginal pay packages and have had to make improvements to attract or retain drivers.”
Spot rates rising
Spot rates for drivers are rising in certain sectors and geographies. Shippers are trying to lock in lower contact rates or delay renewals, she said.
“We’re bouncing back quicker than we thought we would. And demand is growing in most segments,” Shaver said. “We have fleets that report seeing $3-a-mile loads.”
The availability of well-qualified drivers was relatively strong during peak COVID periods. But recruiting is more difficult as the supply tightens.
Care and concern
“The superhero driver and the success story that’s come out of COVID highlighting the positives of our industry will [help attract] some folks,” Shaver said. “But there are some other sticklers that make it difficult.”
For example, trucking is rarely a first-choice career for high school graduates. The average age of a recruit is 38. That person typically in their third or fourth job. They stick around if they make it past the 120-day mark. The industry, Shaver said, does a better job of attracting women than men to driving roles.
More than higher pay, successful fleets are showing greater care and concern for their drivers. Drivers, in turn, are more loyal.
“Online everything was a recommendation prior to COVID. It’s amazing how that became so true, on onboarding, on training, on engaging drivers and most importantly on showing appreciation for everything they’re doing,” Shaver said,
“Maintaining those efforts and impacts after COVID,” Shaver said, “is going to be even more important. It’s something that drivers have really expressed a great appreciation for.”