September 6, 2016

Truckload driver turnover slows to lowest level in five years, ATA says

Better retention efforts, sluggish demand, scarcity of drivers all factors in drop, trade group says.

By DC Velocity Staff

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) said on Thursday that the driver turnover rate at truckload fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue fell in the second quarter to 83 percent, the lowest point since the second quarter of 2011. The turnover rate in the first quarter was 89 percent, the trade group said. At various times in recent years, the turnover rate had approached and even exceeded 100 percent.

The turnover rate at smaller truckload fleets fell nine points to 79 percent, its lowest point since the third quarter of 2015, ATA said. Turnover at less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers rose four points to 12 percent, according to the group's data. LTL driver turnover is significantly less than in the much-larger truckload segment because LTL driver pay is higher and the relatively short hauls in LTL allow for a better work-life balance, which bolsters retention efforts by fleets.

Bob Costello, ATA's chief economist, said the second-quarter drop in truckload turnover is due to a combination of fleets having trouble finding qualified drivers, uncertainty about economic conditions that kept current drivers cautious and reluctant to jump fleets, and beefed-up retention programs, which generally translate into improved pay and better working conditions.

"While one might think that a driver will leave a carrier if they aren't getting enough freight, drivers talk at trucks stops and they know that everyone is in the same boat," Costello said in an e-mail. "Therefore, there is no sense leaving a fleet now. When times get tough, drivers often hunker down."

Judging by August manufacturing data released on Thursday by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), economic times, if not tough, are far from great. Economic activity in August contracted for the first time in five months, according to a nationwide survey of purchasing managers. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for August came in at 49.4 percent; any level below 50 percent indicates a contracting economy. The July index was reported at 52 percent.

The categories that make up the index were uniformly weak in August. New orders fell 7.8 percent month over month, with only six of 18 industries covered by the report showing sequential gains. Production dropped 5.8 percent, while the employment index dropped 1.1 percent.

One glimmer of hope for trucking is that inventory levels at the supplier and end-user levels contracted in August over July. ATA has cited elevated inventories as a main impediment to ordering and shipping demand, as buyers are able to draw down existing stocks before placing new orders that, at some point, must be shipped.

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