The latest news about driver turnover

By John Bendel, editor-at-large

According to the American Trucking Associations, truckload driver turnover rose slightly in the first quarter of 2017 “while remaining at historically low levels.”

The first quarter’s historically low level? Seventy-four percent.

That number brings to mind a job I once had in the field office of a company that coated and wrapped steel pipe before it was buried in the ground, usually for natural gas transmission. It was a hot, gooey job that seemed to coat the workers as well. They worked with molten tar-like stuff outside in all kinds of weather. For their soul-draining efforts they earned minimum wage and were treated like POWs.

One of my jobs was to hire them. I knew it was time when the grizzled foreman came into the field office and said, “Get me some more.” Then I called the state unemployment office and said, “Send me some more.” It was like turning on a spigot. The next day they would start showing up. If they weren’t sloppy drunk or high and they could fill out an application, they were hired. The smart ones left at lunchtime on the first day. The really smart ones left at the morning coffee break.

Of course, driving a truck is nothing like coating steel pipe with oozing gack. Yet somehow the turnover was pretty much the same.

I suppose that “historically low level” of driver turnover is good news for drivers, at least if more of them are satisfied where they are.

For the big carriers it’s good news. Actually it’s more like fantastic news. After all, we’re talking about companies that in the first quarter of 2007, exactly 10 years ago, saw turnover at 127 percent.

Pretty high, right? Yet they were thrilled at the time. That’s because turnover was down from 136 percent in 2005. In 2007, a fleet of 1,000 trucks had to hire only 1,270 drivers every year instead of 1,360.

Now if the first-quarter 2017 trend holds, a 1,000-truck fleet will have to hire a mere 740 drivers this year. For the truckload sector, this pathetic statistic is considered “normal” or even good.

In reality, it’s nuts.

But the industry and its regulators have grown immune to just how crazy it is. Where else would you find such high turnover? Well, it’s really high in fast food, the land of minimum wage where kids work summer jobs and you expect high turnover.

How high? An insanely high 50 percent.

And then there’s the airline industry, which has a shortage of pilots. The reasons for the pilot shortage, they say, are retirements at the mandated age of 65 and extremely low starting pay, mostly at bargain basement airlines. The pay is so lousy it takes forever to earn back what training cost to get your license. These people can’t make enough money to live.

Of course there is no shortage of drivers, only of decent-paying jobs.

Even so, it sounds familiar don’t you think? LL