July 19, 2019

Trucking companies still under pressure to find drivers

First-quarter turnover rate presents muddled picture of labor market for drivers as firms get creative with efforts to attract women to the industry.

By Victoria Kickham

Trucking companies remain under pressure to recruit and retain drivers, as high turnover rates persist nationwide. First-quarter data from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) released July 17 shows that turnover at large truckload carriers rose five points to 83 percent while turnover at smaller fleets dipped four points to 73 percent.

Although the results present a muddled picture of the labor market for drivers, ATA said it remains tight overall.

"While the market for drivers in certain segments continues to be tight, we're seeing the impacts of a softer freight environment," the association's Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement announcing the quarterly results. "Despite weaker freight growth, it is clear that there is still strong demand for quality drivers industry wide, which will continue to put carriers under pressure to recruit and keep good ones."

At 83 percent, turnover at fleets with more than $30 million in revenue was below the 2018 average rate of 89 percent and 11 points below the first quarter of 2018, ATA said. At 73 percent, the turnover rate for smaller fleets is the same as it was in the year-ago period, according to ATA.

The tight labor market is causing some firms to get creative in their recruiting efforts. Fort Worth, Texas-based heavy-haul carrier Lone Star Transportation is one. The specialty firm is marketing directly to women with a campaign designed to showcase its growing staff of women drivers. A recruiting page on the company's web site features interviews with some of its most successful female drivers, one of whom is Sage Mulholland, star of the company's video blog "Flatbed Diva," which aims to show women what it's like on the road.  

Lone Star Transportation's Chief Financial Officer Kristi Williams says Mulholland is one of a handful of employees who have joined the company in recent years and inspired its newfound focus on hiring women.

"[Sage] was amazing. She was so excited, undaunted, very eager—she just wasn't worried at all about doing [the work]," says Williams, pointing to the physical aspects involved in the flatbed industry, which requires drivers to secure large loads using straps, chains, and tarps. "Women comprise over half the U.S. population, but [they make up] only eight to 10 percent of truck drivers—and in our niche, flatbed, it's probably a fraction of that. We thought, 'we are missing out; there must be more of these ladies out there.'"

It turns out they were right. Williams says Lone Star has seen a steady increase in applications from women since launching the hiring campaign earlier this year.

"It's slow, but we're definitely seeing an uptick [in applications from women]," says Williams, noting that Lone Star employed just two women drivers out of a total 235 drivers a year ago and now employs eight. "We're trying to shine a spotlight on these ladies and it's made a huge difference."

She adds that Lone Star's efforts are part of a larger play to attract more women to the industry.

"The driver shortage is so great, everyone is doing everything they can to widen the net," she says. "I absolutely feel like this is happening industry-wide. People are focused on [women] because it's an untapped market."

About the Author

Victoria Kickham
Senior Editor
Victoria Kickham started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for DC Velocity.

More articles by Victoria Kickham

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