The trucking industry is known for high driver turnover rates for a number of reasons.
For one thing, many of the jobs are on the road. There’s no requirement to show up at a physical location every day, unless your job is local in nature. For everyone else — namely over-the-road, or OTR, drivers — the home address is their home is listed as a “domicile” in carrier records and is simply an address the driver must be sent to for “home time.”
Because many drivers live in a truck most days and nights, carriers can be changed at will.
Drivers leave carriers for a variety of reasons. The most commonly reported ones are compensation, number of miles and perceived treatment from superiors. Sometimes drivers don’t have a choice; for instance, a carrier may close or downsize its fleet, or the driver may involuntarily terminated.
Most of the time, however, the driver makes the decision to leave. All too often, industry and economic conditions aren’t a consideration when changing jobs … but they should be.
Trucking goes through repetitive cycles of boom and bust. The market is ruled by the principle of supply and demand, with “demand” being the need for trucks to haul freight and “supply” being the number of available trucks. When there is a lot of freight, trucks are in greater demand and shippers are willing to pay higher rates to get their product moved.
As you would expect, when freight rates rise, carriers want to haul as much as they can. They buy more trucks and expand their fleets in order to earn as much revenue as possible. But at some point the number of trucks exceeds the amount needed for available freight. Sometimes it’s because carriers bought too many trucks. Sometimes it’s because freight levels fell due to recession or other factors. Usually it’s a combination of both.
The industry is currently in a “downcycle” that is expected to continue for a few more months. That means rates are low and truckers are competing for available loads.
How does all this impact the job market? When carriers are expanding their fleets, they look to hire more drivers. Some are willing to relax hiring standards by, for example, allowing more violations on a driving record or a shorter waiting period after a felony conviction. It’s easier for a driver to find work, and there’s a chance the pay will be higher, too, as carriers adjust payrolls.
When carrier fleets are shrinking, the opposite occurs. Hiring standards are tightened to ensure that the carrier is only hiring the best drivers available. Pay rates stagnate. Owner-operators exacerbate the problem by selling their unprofitable trucks and competing for open company driver jobs.
The gist of all this is this: Right now might not be the best time to look for another trucking job. Carriers have downsized their fleets by about 3% in the past six months. Throw in the competition from some 22,000 Yellow Corp. drivers who are entering the job market because of the company closing its doors, and you can see that there are more drivers competing for fewer jobs.
Additionally, drivers who are unhappy with the number of miles they’re getting may not be happier elsewhere, since market conditions are something every carrier deals with. When times are good, carriers can decline shorter runs and those with unpopular origins or destinations. In difficult times, they may accept shorter runs in order to keep trucks running. The reality is that whatever carrier you jump to may also be having trouble finding enough miles for its drivers.
Pay rates follow a pattern similar to hiring policies. When freight is plentiful, carriers tend to raise pay rates in order to attract more drivers. Some institute or increase sign-on bonuses, some raise per-mile rates. When one offers raises, however, it’s not unusual to see other carriers follow so they don’t lose drivers to the churn.
Right now, carriers are not offering raises. They are tightening their belts, conserving cash while they wait for the market to turn.
Benefits are another consideration. Many carriers have waiting periods before health insurance becomes effective. A new job means starting over to accrue vacation or paid leave time. Drivers who have families that are covered by health care might consider how long they’ll be without coverage before leaping into a new job.
Don’t discount relationships, either. A strong relationship between driver and fleet manager is key to a smooth operation and can put more miles — and more money — in the driver’s pocket. Starting over at a new carrier often means starting at the bottom and taking whatever’s given by a manager who is just getting to know you.
If you’re looking for a job because you don’t have one, or because conditions at your current carrier are unbearable, you should be able to find one. However, if you’re thinking the grass looks greener in another carrier’s truck, it may be better to bite the bullet and stay where you are until the trucking economy opens up.
After all, the more jobs listed on your job application, the more likely you’ll be seen as a job hopper, someone who never sticks with anything for very long.
It’s better to understand the market and research your next carrier thoroughly so that when you do make the decision to change, you’ll know what you’re getting into. Holding off on the job change until conditions improve is sound advice.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.