Editor’s note: Written by Oliver Feakins, president of All Truck Jobs, a job recruitment site for truck drivers and carriers. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
Over the last twelve months, the trucking industry has experienced one of the largest cases of whiplash I’ve seen in my decade-long career in driver recruiting.
When the pandemic started in late spring, we saw the national economy grind to a halt. Trucking companies had been growing at aggressive rates as the economy expanded. Once the lockdowns started companies saw available freight dry up overnight and many carriers had to lay off their drivers. Some companies went out of business.
SURPLUS TO SHORTAGE
This created a surplus of drivers fighting for limited jobs. It was a carrier’s market that allowed trucking companies to quickly hire qualified drivers from within the industry. As vaccines rolled out and COVID-19 infections lessened, states began reopening. What happened next was that of a perfect storm that turned the trucking industry upside down.
The economy reignited, unleashing pent-up demand built up over the prior 12 months. Trucking companies were completely unprepared for the demand and found themselves extremely understaffed. Job sites like AllTruckJobs.com and our competitors experienced an immediate influx of trucking companies needing our services. We have seen a 120 percent increase in clients on the job board in the last twelve months. Like everybody in the recruiting industry, we are all struggling with fulfilling the demand of trucking companies that need hundreds of truck drivers as fast as possible.
You may think that this would be an easy feat based on the hundreds of thousands of truck drivers that were laid off during the pandemic. But that is far from what is happening when you talk to trucking companies on the ground and look at what we’re seeing from data on our platform. Our driver application rates are down 12 percent and we’re seeing this across the board with other companies and job platforms as well.
APPLICATIONS CONTINUE TO FALL
Application rates are falling even though we have had a 100 percent increase in trucking companies on our board and our job count has increased by more than 30 percent. Moreover, it’s not just the trucking companies that are spending time on recruiting sites. Our driver engagement has seen an increase of over 300 percent at the same time.
What does this mean? It means that drivers are taking their time and being selective in their choice of company. The demand for their skills is at a fever pitch and companies who want to stay competitive are rolling out generous pay packages and more home time to attract them. I spoke to a small carrier in Oregon who had to offer a combination of $15,000 worth of sign-on bonuses to attract drivers and they are still struggling to hire drivers in their area.
We are hearing a lot of frustration motor carriers trying to hire drivers. Truckers are doing a lot of window shopping and cherry-picking the work situations that best fit their lives. Some trucking companies blame the extended unemployment benefits for the lack of driver interest. In some cases, the government’s additional unemployment compensation amounts came within 30 percent or even exceeded, potential driver income. One recruiting manager said a lot of drivers would rather take a pay cut and stay at home than throw on some boots and strap down their flatbeds in 100-degree weather.
While truck driver application rates are down 12 percent on average there is a wide range of different engagement rates when it comes to job content. Owner-operators have decreased application rates by more than 35 percent. There could be many reasons for this as owner-operators potentially struggled financially during the pandemic and either left the industry or became employed as company drivers. I would also argue that owner operators may have had a tougher time finding available loads in the compressed freight market. When it comes to freight types, the hardest hit driver types were reefer, followed by car hauling, interdimensional and flatbed. Freight types with the least amount of candidate disruption were oversized (which grew), dry bulk, and dry van.
I expect to see a significant shift in the hiring and recruiting trends of truck drivers as the economy expands, unemployment compensation contracts and supply chain issues are corrected. Carriers need to understand that the shortage is real, and they need to align expectations and become competitive to thrive. Trucking companies that fail to meet the demands of the market will have to spend far more money to hire or fail to staff their trucks and move their freight. Just like the pandemic, this is something that the industry is navigating together, and nobody is immune. I believe it will take many years for the market to correct itself.
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