February 2, 2016

Trucking firms use data analytics strategies to avoid driver shortage

Driver surveys reveal common complaints. Data firm advises development of loyalty programs to boost retention.

By Ben Ames

A driver shortage predicted for years by trucking firms could be reduced if carriers use data analytics instead of professional recruiters to find the best employees for the job, according to Stay Metrics, a trucking-industry analyst firm affiliated with the University of Notre Dame.

Trucking companies across the U.S. have warned for years that changing demographics and a more difficult operating environment would lead to a shortage of qualified drivers, which in turn could dramatically increase the cost of bringing goods to market. The American Trucking Associations (ATA), a trade group representing mostly larger fleets, reported a shortage of 48,000 drivers as of the end of 2015, a figure that could reach 175,000 drivers by 2024, ATA says. Some private forecasts said the magnitude of the shortage could be worse than that.

Those challenges are real, but executives often exacerbate the problem by relying too heavily on recruiters, who tend to bring in large numbers of unsuitable candidates. This only results in increased turnover, according to South Bend, Ind.-based Stay Metrics. Instead, companies can use data analytics to drill into their own metrics, and use the results to recruit and retain the most qualified truck drivers, the company said.

"The more the shortage is prominent, the more aggressively you have to recruit," Tim Judge, Stay Metrics' director of research and a professor in the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, said during a Dec. 14 conference call. "You often get people in the 'hopper' who are quick to leave, and therefore you need to replace even more people. And so we are trying to stop this vicious cycle and trying to see how can we use analytics ... to attack that."

A company typically conducts employee surveys at such points such as prehiring, during training, and throughout the employees' careers, Stay Metrics founder and CEO Tim Hindes said on the call. Only when a company understands the cause of turnover can it react by hiring drivers who will not stumble over those pain points, he said.

Common complaints reported by Stay Metrics' clients, spanning 50 carriers and 15,000 drivers, include confrontational dispatchers who frequently agitate drivers; shippers that are late in making loads available and burn through drivers' available hours of service; and a lack of route flexibility.

Another way to avoid driver shortages is to extend the careers of current employees, said Judge. Firms can pursue this goal by using predictive analytics to reveal the typical characteristics of their most successful drivers or most profitable accounts. Firms can encourage other drivers to emulate those best practices by creating "loyalty programs" to reward employees for attributes such as safety, productivity, on-time pickup, and delivery performance.

"Driver-retention managers are senior executives now that actually have the title 'Driver Retention'," said Hindes. "For those of you that were in the industry that remember this, probably five years ago, it was very rare for somebody to have the word 'retention' in their title. Ten years ago it was unheard of, and I think that most carriers now have somebody focused on that."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

More articles by Ben Ames

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