Trucking firms scrambling to fill seats
Titan Transfer didn't have to vet a single applicant to pick up 60 new truck drivers in one of the most challenging environments ever for hiring experienced drivers...
Titan Transfer didn't have to vet a single applicant to pick up 60 new truck drivers in one of the most challenging environments ever for hiring experienced drivers.
Trucking firms scrambling to fill seats
Shelbyville, Tenn.-based Titan, which has about 80 drivers at its Memphis terminal, went out and bought USA Cartage Co. of Williamsport, Md., in part to add to its stable of veteran drivers with clean records.
"Acquisitions are based not on equipment, but on drivers," said Dana Workman, director of national sales at Titan's Malone Road terminal. "You're seeing more and more companies struggle to find good drivers. They go out and purchase a company not for their customer base, but for their driver base."
Experienced truck drivers with good records are one of the hotter commodities in the job market as America's appetite for freight nudges upward, veteran drivers retire and new safety regulations clamp down on the trucking industry.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reports that driver turnover for large truckload fleets rose by 2 percentage points, to 90 percent, in the January-March quarter, while turnover for fleets with less than $30 million revenues jumped 16 percentage points, to 71 percent. The turnover rates were the highest since 2008.
Turnover at less-than-truckload fleets such as FedEx Freight was up one percentage point, to 8 percent.
Truck-driver hiring has been one of the brighter spots in recent Department of Labor statistics.
The nation added about 7,300 trucking jobs in May compared to a year earlier, and that was more than 10 percent of the total nonfarm employment gain of 69,000 for the month. The trucking jobs were part of a 35,600 gain in the broader transportation employment sector.
The hiring comes as freight volumes continue to rebound in fits and starts.
The ATA said Monday that the advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index fell 0.7 percent in May after falling 1.1 percent in April, compared to the previous months.
Year over year, the index grew 4.1 percent in May and 3.8 percent in April, and ATA chief economist Bob Costello reiterated that tonnage growth of 3 to 3.9 percent is expected this year.
Trucking's huge in the Memphis region, where the nation's third-busiest trucking corridor meets five major railroads, the world's No. 2 cargo airport and one of America's busiest inland ports.
The ATA considers high turnover of drivers as a sign of a healthy industry, with growth creating churn in the ranks of drivers, spokesman Sean McNally said.
However, "On the drivers' side, as an industry, they really face some challenges," said Dexter Muller, senior vice president of community development at the Greater Memphis Chamber. "The driver shortage is like many of the skilled trades. The drivers are aging and it's hard to attract people in those industries. It's highly regulated. There are background checks, drug tests, all those things enter into it."
Muller said the driver shortage could be boosting Memphis' burgeoning intermodal freight business, which moves containerized freight on a combination of road and rails.
"I think in some sense it's what's pushing some of these trucking companies to really use intermodal. We're seeing J.B. Hunt on BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) trailers all the time.
What the trucking companies are realizing is with fuel prices going up and competition for drivers going up, maybe it takes an extra day to go by train, but they're willing to consider that because of the challenges."
Titan hauls automotive, paper, plastic and food products, among other general commodities. The company moved its West Tennessee terminal into Memphis from Brownsville in hopes of securing advantages, including access to a larger pool of drivers.
Officials found that because of the concentration of trucking firms, the competition for drivers increased as much as the company's visibility, Workman said.
Titan's driver turnover is running 40 percent, meaning four out of 10 driver jobs will have to be filled within a year.
Workman said the company employs social media such as Facebook and Twitter to keep its name in front of the driver community and to keep in touch with its younger, smartphone-equipped drivers.
"You've got this perfect storm for drivers," said Workman. "Literally, a driver could quit tomorrow, go work somewhere else for two weeks, and then come back and we would accept him with open arms. In years past, you'd say he was not loyal and you'd bring him back as a new hire versus having seniority."
Dynamex, the largest same-day delivery company in North America, doesn't deal with driver churn like truckload haulers experience, but it's always on the lookout for new talent, Memphis branch manager Carey Treadwell said.
"We had an excellent year in Memphis in 2011 and we are experiencing growth year over year in 2012. We have an increased demand for transportation service providers in our model," Treadwell said.
After 13 years as a driver, Memphian Kevin Kallaher, 57, said he's planning a career change when he rebounds from cancer treatment. He parted ways with Milan Express and lost benefits after he was diagnosed, but is fighting the illness with the help of his COBRA policy.
"You've got a lot of the veteran drivers who are retiring," Kallaher said. "The guys coming in to replace them, you can't expect a kid just out of truck driving school to do what a man's been doing 35-40 years. I'm not going back in that truck when this is over. I'm going to find something else to do. It has worked my body to death."