With pay increases continuing to roll in for the men and women behind the wheel of the nation’s over-the-road trucks, you might think that there would be rising interest in filling those jobs.
But according to one somewhat nontransparent metric, yet still one that people use as a snapshot of interest in a wide variety of subjects, that isn’t happening.
A look at the searches for the term “truck driver jobs” on Google Trends shows that the number of people typing that into the main Google bar has declined this month. This is occurring even as the weather gets better, so the prospect of getting stuck in a massive snowstorm is declining, and as companies ramp up not just their pay increases but their public announcements of them.
Google Trends reports its numbers on the basis of a percentage of 100. That 100 number cannot be topped; it represents what Google says is the highest level of interest.
In the week of Feb. 7 through 13, it reached 96. Two weeks later, it was down to 52. And in the week ended Saturday, it was back down to 59 after climbing back to 73 in the week ended March 6.
Figuring out why interest would spike isn’t obvious. For example, in the week of May 24-30, 2020, it hit 100. That wasn’t long after independent owner-operators were protesting in the streets of Washington against rapacious brokers and the head of the 3PL industry association took the extraordinary step in putting out a video to rebut the charges.
The index hit 96 in the week ended Oct. 24. Two weeks later, it was down to 48, the lowest level in the last year.
What’s notable is how in the last few months, it has zigzagged up and down with no apparent pattern. But given all the effort that companies are throwing into recruitment, particularly through higher pay, it’s notable that the level of interest can’t break out to the upside and stay there.
Asked about the apparent disconnect between fewer people looking for jobs as truck drivers and the fact that the economics of it appear to be solid for now, Tim Hindes of StayMetrics said in an email to FreightWaves, “We really don’t know how much labor we lost due to the pandemic. … There were obvious deaths and early retirements we have no visibility into.”
There remains uncertainty going forward, Hindes said. “We can’t tell who is sitting at home permanently and who’s waiting for a vaccination and then they’ll return,” he said.
Max Farrell, the CEO and co-founder of WorkdHound, which advises companies on driver retention, sees an upside to fewer people looking for jobs. “Driver retention has been accepted as an unsolvable problem for far too long, but we’re seeing companies put effort into retaining drivers and it’s working. Naturally, this would result in less searching for jobs by drivers as they decide to stay put,” he said in an email to FreightWaves.
Farrell also raised a subject that has been noted by many: pandemic-related closures of driver schools. “Trucking schools have a limited pipeline to offer after the impact of 2020,” he wrote. “This will have lasting effects for the foreseeable future as companies cope with driver turnover and the shortage. The only way forward is for companies to focus on retaining the drivers they have, and evaluating what needs to change in order to keep them.
Another factor: stimulus money. Hindes said there also is no visibility into “who’s waiting for funding to dry up and then they’ll return.”
There is anecdotal evidence that Uber and other similar services are struggling finding drivers as a result of so many of them receiving their stimulus checks.
The February employment numbers reported earlier this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflected figures that could reveal a drop in the lack of interest in getting hired as a truck driver. The number of seasonally adjusted jobs under the truck transportation segment for February was 1,475,700 jobs, down 4,000 from a month earlier. That shift was in opposition to several years’ worth of trends. The number of jobs in trucking between January and February had risen in nine of the prior 10 years. The one year when there was a decline was a small amount.
One of the explanations given for why finding drivers has been particularly tough is that so many potential drivers are turning to construction. The Google Trends data, when normalized for comparison purposes as it is in this chart, does show a significantly greater interest in construction jobs.
Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University, said competition out of the warehouse and parcel sector also has impacted trucking employment. In an email to FreightWaves, Miller said parcel carriers added 142,100 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis between January 2020 and January 2021. In the warehouse sector, that was 106,800 jobs.
“Clearly there is competition for the same labor pool in these two sectors,” Miller said.