The driver turnover rate at large truckload fleets—those with more than $30 million in annual revenue—fell sequentially by two percentage points to 81 percent in the third quarter, the third straight quarterly decline of 2016 and the lowest level since the second quarter of 2011, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said today.
The driver turnover rate at large truckload carriers has been steadily declining for the past year from levels that not long ago were matching or exceeding 100 percent, meaning that carriers had complete driver turnover in some years. The decline in the turnover rate reflects an increasing driver reluctance to jump carriers amid a general malaise in the freight economy, as well as a dramatic drop in shipping demand from companies in the shale oil business, which has been battered by a severe and protracted drop in oil prices since 2014.
The turnover rate at smaller truckload fleets rose one point to 80 percent, while turnover at less-than-truckload carriers fell three points to 9 percent, ATA said. LTL driver turnover is historically very low because those drivers are better paid than their truckload sisters and brethren, and the relatively short distances driven by LTL carriers allows for a better work-life balance because drivers can be home more often.
"Despite the falling turnover rate, carriers continue to report difficulty finding well-qualified drivers, a problem that will not only persist, but which will get worse as the freight economy improves," said Bob Costello, ATA's chief economist. Costello has been uncharacteristically gloomy throughout the year about the industry's near-term prospects, blaming elevated inventory levels throughout the supply chain, which have dampened new order activity, and freight demand.
That cycle may be ending, however. The "inventory-to-sales ratio" for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers has been in a stair-step decline after peaking at the start of the year. This indicates the supply chain is working down inventory levels to the point where orders may begin to pick up. The inventory-to-sales ratio is a measure of the number of months of inventory on hand relative to monthly sales.
In addition, the Institute for Supply Management's (ISM's) November report on manufacturing activity showed accelerating growth in new orders, a pattern that's been in place for three consecutive months. The ISM report found that supplier inventories were contracting, and that end user inventories were, in the group's words, "too low."
Costello said driver turnover rates may rebound in the months to come if the economy continues to gain traction.