Driver Shortage: Many are Called, Fewer Are Chosen

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FUELING DRIVER DEMAND | These key factors are creating a demand for nearly 100,000 new drivers each year over the coming decade as experienced drivers reach retirement age and trucking continues to grow, says the American Trucking Associations.

The last capacity crunch, roughly 2004-08, is considered to have been a great time for the industry by some participants.

Steve Williams, chief executive officer of Maverick USA, looks no further than his bottom line to know that the balance of transportation supply and demand again has shifted in favor of carriers, even if it’s not a repeat of 2004.

“The capacity shortage is very real,” says Williams, a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations. “But now I’ve got more business than I have drivers. The name of the game from here on out is recruiting, training and retention.”

Maverick, a longtime flatbed carrier that has expanded by adding specialized glass and refrigerated divisions, is “almost back” to its pre-recession seated truck count.

Williams calls 2012’s turnover “normal” at 58 percent, which is well below the industry average for large truckload carriers – typically about 100 percent. Maverick also grew by 250 trucks, its best total for a year without an acquisition. Along with financial and safety performances that were “stellar,” the year was the company’s best ever for recruiting, he says.

Why do so many carriers continue to experience difficulty finding new drivers?

By this summer, the fleet was reduced by 105 trucks, while turnover was up slightly. However, recruiting statistics are “unbelievably different,” as Williams details.

Year-to-date in 2012: 16,316 leads processed, with 674 drivers hired; YTD 2013: 30,210 leads – or nearly double 2012’s to-date total – yet only 559 hires, or 115 fewer.

“Frequency is up,” he says. “More leads and more apps, but we’re rejecting an unprecedented number for one reason or another.”

Williams points out that Maverick is particularly cautious in its hires: The process includes hair follicle testing and sleep apnea screening. But Williams and Maverick have long advocated strict driver qualifications: Now other carriers must think twice, in the CSA environment, about looking the other way when it comes to new hires with spotty driving records.

“It’s time to continue to make it difficult to get in this industry and stay in this industry,” he says. “If you can’t cut it, get out.”

Given that the economy has not been robust, Williams says the growing supply/demand imbalance is capacity-driven.

“When we have little spot surges, like we’ve had in building materials, there are no trucks to haul it,” he says. But a sustained shortage of equipment – one that will allow carriers to set consistently higher prices – has yet to emerge.

“There’s a solution – pay drivers more money,” Williams says. “That attracts better talent. But you can’t have just one shipper that sees the light and gives you more money. You’ve got to have all the shippers see the light so you can raise your rates across all your lanes.”

Plan B: No experience required
For many carriers, a new driver is preferable to an experienced driver with bad habits, especially one with the bad driving history to prove it.

Lou Spoonhour, president of DriveCo and a former chairman of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, says it’s about time for such a shift.

“I’ve been at this for 34 years, and we’re hearing from trucking companies that I’ve never heard the names of before,” Spoonhour says. “All of a sudden, entry-level is opening up as if it’s a brand-new field.”

Most CVTA schools also have regular, direct contact with carrier safety departments to stay up to date with hiring criteria.

“Sometimes the experienced driver is set in his ways, whereas a student is a clean slate and can be molded,” Spoonhour says. “That’s what we claim to be our advantage – they’re coming out with no extra baggage.” Typically, driving school graduates will go on to a carrier’s finishing school for more advanced training.

The average student age is “probably 35 to 40, where it used to be 28 to 33,” Spoonhour said. “We’ve started to get an increase in skilled workers, like electricians, carpenters, plumbers who made a living in the construction trades. We’ve found that trucking is a good option for ‘hands-on’ people. Or they have friends or relatives who drive.”

Students also see truck driving as a lasting opportunity that won’t be shipped overseas, Spoonhour says.

In order to maintain a 95 percent placement rate for its 200 to 300 students each year, DriveCo screens extensively. Students have to be able to pass a physical and a drug screen, and they’re subject to random drug tests while in school. Additionally, the school checks the prospective student’s driving record and criminal history. Pre-enrollment interviews are designed to make sure the students understand trucking and that the business will be a good fit with their personal goals.


Smith & Solomon’s COO, John Diab announced as new chairman of CVTA

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The CVTA (Commercial Vehicle Training Association) held their fall 2013 conference last month in Washington, D.C. where the announcement that John Diab, COO of Smith & Solomon Commercial Driver Training will sit as their new Board of Directors Chairman.

The CVTA plays a pivotal role in the world of the extremely prominent industry of trucking. They are the National Trade Association representing the proprietary truck driving schools in the United States and Canada. CVTA represents approximately two hundred commercial driver training schools and graduates an estimated 50,000 new drivers each year... Continue reading.

TMC’s Kyle Lee named Trucking’s Top Rookie, wins $25k in prizes

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TMC Transportation’s Kyle Lee was named the winner of the third annual Trucking’s Top Rookie contest and has won $25,000 in cash and prizes.

Lee was selected from 10 finalists in attendance, which was narrowed down from 46 original nominations.

As part of prize package, Lee was presented with a $10,000 check from Randall-Reilly (publisher of Overdrive) and will also receive a RoadPro Getting Started LIving On-the-Go Package; $1,000 cash and 100,000 from Pilot Flying J; a year’s supply of 5-Hour Energy; a GPS unit and CB radio from Cobra Electronics; an American Trucking Associations “Good Stuff Brings It” package and a Rand McNally Motor Carrier Road Atlas.

The other nine finalists will each receive $1,000 in cash and a variety of other prizes. Trucking’s Top Rookie is a partnership between Randall-Reilly, Truckload Carriers Association, Commercial Vehicle Training Association, Shell ROTELLA, Pilot Flying J, National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, American Trucking Associations and the Red Eye Radio Network.

The contest is designed to promote professionalism among new drivers and a boost retention efforts of fleets.


The U.S. DOT Opens On-line Dialogue on our Next Strategic Plan

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has been working on our strategic plan for FY 2014 to FY 2018 since early this spring.  Developing and implementing our strategic plan is an important step in helping the Department address key priorities that represent the diverse interests of our stakeholders across the country.

Transportation is an engine for growing our economy and creating American jobs. Every day, people and businesses rely on a multi-modal transportation system to travel and to move goods to consumers at home and abroad. We know that wherever we invest in transportation infrastructure, opportunities for countless Americans follow. So we want to ensure that our strategic plan serves as a foundation for building, operating, and maintaining a safe and efficient transportation system. 

We also want to ensure that all of our stakeholders have an opportunity to read the plan and weigh in. And that means you.

For the next few weeks, you can review the plan and submit your ideas and comments at the DOT Strategic Plan Online Dialogue.  The dialogue also provides an opportunity to read and respond to what others are saying about the plan. Your participation will help us shape the future of transportation in America.

I appreciate any time you can offer to provide this important feedback, and I encourage you to give the Online Dialogue site a visit.  If you prefer, you can also email your comments directly to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thank you!

Werner’s Leathers: Trucking’s Key Tools All under Attack

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derekleathers-werner.jpgThe cost of each of the four fundamental inputs in the business of trucking — trucks, trailers, drivers and fuel — have risen and likely will continue to rise in large part due to the policies of the Obama administration, says Derek Leathers, president of Werner Enterprises. Speaking at the Avondale Partners Trucking Forum in Dallas, Leathers said that the administration’s environmental policies have led to more expensive equipment. The Obama administration’s energy policies, which are driven by environmental policy, have meant more expensive fuel. And the administration’s pro-labor policies have increased and will continue to increase the overall cost of the driver work force, Leathers says.

The government’s damage to the industry doesn’t end there, Leathers argues. He cited the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance Safety Accountability program. He noted that Werner is under the intervention threshold in all of the BASICs, so to an extent CSA works to the company’s competitive advantage. “I could easily tell you that CSA is a great thing, but I am not going to do that because there are fundamental flaws.”

For starters, only 11 percent of carriers draw enough inspections to come under CSA scrutiny, Leathers said. And then among that 11 percent, shippers are encouraged at least implicitly to make go/no-go decisions on selecting carriers based on CSA scores that have all sorts of flaws and limitations, including inconsistent and incomplete data and the failure of CSA to consider crash preventability.

In other regulatory areas, FMCSA’s efforts are misguided or ineffective, Leathers says. For example, the recent changes in the hours-of-service rules will hurt the productivity of carriers that obey them, but they will be least effective among the very carriers that most need greater safety oversight. “We would have preferred to see mandatory electronic onboard recorders to a change in hours of service. That’s where our focus needs to be and should have been.”

On balance, the hours-of-service changes are bad, but they are constraining capacity, Leathers says. “Customers we haven’t heard from in a while are talking to us.” He predicts that shippers’ capacity concerns will grow in the coming months, and even the calendar plays into this. There is one fewer week between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year than last year, “and that may compress the emotional urgency shippers feel.”

Nor does Leathers see a change in the trend toward tighter capacity anytime soon, and he cites aging equipment as one of the principal factors. The industry’s average fleet age is now 6.6 years, and to bring that down to the long-run average of 5.5 years would require an estimated investment of $54 billion over 24 months, he says. Maintenance costs are beginning to force the retirement of aging equipment, but the capital isn’t there to replace it.

When truck buying does take off, Leathers doesn’t think it will be with a new source of fuel. Werner has looked at natural gas-powered trucks, but the numbers don’t work, he says. They are more expensive to buy, 15 percent less fuel efficient, 5 percent more expensive to maintain and will have a residual value that’s 50 percent less than comparable diesel-powered trucks, Leathers says.

As is the case with most of the industry’s leaders, Werner’s business is changing. “Werner is one of the fastest growing logistics companies,” Leathers says. For many years, the business was all about hauling freight from Point A to Point B. “Today, it’s much more about how we manage the freight.”

But this mindset has limits, he argues. “At the end of the day, the bucks are in the trucks. And we think that’s increasingly so as we see capacity constraints….Spreadsheets don’t move freight; trailers and trucks do.”


U.S. Bridge Spending Lags as Repair Needs Dwarf Funds

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By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 19 print edition of Transport Topics.

Despite the nation’s efforts to upgrade its bridges in recent years, a staggering 151,500 are still labeled as deficient, the cure for which is to spend $20.5 billion every year between now and 2028.

That estimate comes from the Federal Highway Administration, which oversees the health of the nation’s bridges and which says that current spending on the spans is $12.8 billion annually.

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CSA Data Could Be Used Against Fleets in Court Cases, Defense Lawyer Warns

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By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 19 print edition of Transport Topics.

A trucking industry defense attorney warned that plaintiffs’ attorneys will attempt to get Compliance, Safety, Accountability data into evidence to bolster accident claims that a carrier is unsafe.

“If CSA evidence makes its way into the courtroom, in my opinion, it could very well tip the scales in given cases,” Ted Perryman, a lawyer with the St. Louis law firm of Roberts Perryman, said during an American Trucking Associations webinar earlier this month.

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