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Is driver retention getting better? Stay Metrics’ latest data suggests yes

Various data comparisons in latest quarterly report indicate drivers might be sticking around longer

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The Stay Metrics/Tenstreet retention table that tracks how long drivers are sticking around in their jobs is colorful and is set up almost like a puzzle, an apt description in trying to use it to  discern trends in retention.

Stay Metrics’ retention table resembles a spreadsheet. It’s colorful because if a retention rate is 80% or more, the cell it is in is colored green. A retention rate of 65% to 79.9% gets a tan box. If it’s 50.1% up to 64.4%, the box is in red. Anything below that, it’s in black.

And when the latest report through the fourth quarter is compared to the report through the third quarter, it is possible to look at several numbers and see a few signs that retention might have been better in the final three months of the year than in the prior three months.

“I think broadly that there are signs in the table that suggest that retention might be starting to slowly improve and that there may not necessarily be less turnover but longer tenures,” Brad Fulton, the director of research and analytics at Stay Metrics, which was acquired by Tenstreet in late 2020, said.

For example, Fulton pointed to two eight-month periods as a sign that retention might be getting better.

On the Stay Metrics table, the left is a column listing two years’ worth of starting months. So for example, the fourth-quarter report recently issued by Stay Metrics is for drivers who started between January 2020 and December 2021. Across the top is a list of durations between seven, and 365 days. The difficulty in retaining truck drivers is such that a typical percentage of retention for just 30 days is between 85% and 90%, which means that 10% to 15% of drivers in the Stay Metrics survey were gone from their jobs after a month. (According to the latest report, 10% of the drivers hired in September 2021 didn’t even last seven days, though a more normal seven-day figure might be a loss of 3-5%.)

According to Fulton, the 270-day retention date for drivers hired between January and August 2020 — eight months — had five black boxes in the most recent report. A black box signifies the lowest retention rate. That means for five of those eight months, the retention rate for drivers hired 270 days earlier was below 50%. Three months were higher than 50% and those eight months even featured a 66.5% retention rate after 270 days for drivers who began in July 2020.

Fulton then pointed to the 270-day retention rate for the subsequent eight consecutive months that began in September 2020 and ended in April 2021. In that stretch, there are just three black boxes, with the other five showing red because they are all above a 50% retention rate. That is a sign of better retention.

Source: Stay Metrics

Fulton noted that comparison is not perfect because it does not allow for seasonal factors. 

There are other numbers through the chart that might be seen as suggesting retention is improving. While most of the table is in percentages, totals also are pulled together for those months in which one year of data is available. In the latest report, that would be for drivers hired between January and December 2020. In the prior report, it was for drivers hired between October 2019 and September 2020. For example, the figure for December in the latest report is the average number of days a driver hired in December 2020 had worked at that job after 12 months.

The comparison then would be the average days on the job for drivers hired in the 12 months that began in October 2019 versus those hired in the 12 months that commenced in January 2020. Of those 12 month-to-month comparisons, six of them showed a larger number of days retained, two were roughly equal and four showed a lower rate of retention, suggesting slightly better efforts at retention. Looking at the 120-day and 60-day columns, similar patterns of improvement can be discerned. 

There are other data points that are too small to mark a trend but would still be pointing in the direction of slightly better retention. For example, in the column noting the retention rate after 120 days, the 20 months in the latest report show seven months marked in red, with a retention rate between 50% and 65%. The prior report had just six red boxes. 

Fourth-quarter figures for retention through 180 days showed just two black boxes (worse retention) and two tan ones (better retention) in the 19 months ended July 2021. The same 180-day data just three months earlier had three black boxes (worse retention), another suggestion of somewhat better retention rates in the fourth quarter. 

Comparisons to a year earlier are always tricky in light of the pandemic. But looking at the table released with data through the fourth quarter of 2020 and the most recent table, through Q4 2021. For example, the 180 days’ data, which goes through July 2021 and July 2020, respectively, shows seven black months in the period ending in 2020. There are just two in the period ending in 2021, and they are both for months when the drivers were hired not long after the start of the pandemic. 

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.