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Flatbed Trucking: Industry Changes and Driver Shortage

Flatbed Trucking: Industry Changes and Driver Shortage

Flatbed Trucking

The flatbed trucking industry is having an exceptional year. Truck tonnage has increased each month in 2014 after a terrible winter. Increased consumer confidence and spending has helped get the economy moving again.

Consumers are purchasing new cars and appliances, which are primarily made from either steel or aluminum, primary commodities moved via flatbed trucks. Similarly, manufacturers have increased their output capacity based on the renewed consumer confidence. The home building industry is moving again, which has created large demand for new construction of housing and buildings. Building materials are also primarily moved on flatbed trucks. Finally, the oil and gas industry is seeing incredible growth across the country. The shale gas industry has been particularly active. The drilling sites require a lot of pipe, which again, is shipped via flatbed trucks.

Advances in technology have allowed most carriers (including flatbed) to create greater operational efficiencies over the past few years. Trucking companies who deploy electronic logging devices (ELDs) are able to improve safety, productivity, efficiency, and increase the hours of service (HOS) compliance rate. With ELDs, trucking companies can improve driver utilization to maximize their day. By doing this, it also should allow drivers to make more money. A recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) study found that trucks with ELDs have an 11.7% lower overall crash rate and a 5.1% lower preventable crash rate than trucks without devices. This technology also reduces the chance of lost logs and improves the time for paperwork submission. Smartphones also help the industry by increasing efficiency for drivers. At our company, about 80% of all drivers use smartphones with great success.

While the economy and demand for our services are good, our industry continues to face the reality of a shortage of drivers. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average professional truck driver age is 55. Not only do we face retirements, but there are fewer young people getting into the industry. Across the country, there are about 30,000 unfilled truck driving jobs, according to a recent study by the American Trucking Association (ATA), and that shortage is expected to worsen.

The ATA has estimated that the motor carrier industry must attract almost one million drivers over the next 10 years to meet rising demand. The improving economy means the already tight driver labor force will have opportunities for jobs in other fields, such as construction, that does not require them to live on the road. To combat this driver shortage, our company (and most of our competitors) constantly recruits new drivers. We use traditional methods such as print, direct mail, and radio. Additionally, we employ the use of social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) to reach out to the driver community. This medium is quite successful especially for reaching younger drivers—a hot commodity in our business.

Have you noticed any shifts in the flatbed or trucking industry in recent months? Share your comments below. Also, what methods does your company employ to attract more drivers to your company and our industry? We’d love to hear from you.

- President, PGT Trucking

Comments

Dennis Smith

One important problem not addressed by Mr. Troian is the endemic problem of loading and unloading delays at shippers and consignees. Until this problem is addressed, driver and equipment utilization will be wasted.

I would propose an industry rating system for rating loading and unloading performance and times at facilities. Once word gets out about delays at facilities, and traffic to and from them becomes problematic, maybe they will address this problem. Unless we as an industry are prepared to draw the line on a problem that has been widespread as long as trucking has existed, it will not change, and we will only have ourselves to blame.

6.18.14

Reply

Bob Ryan

Thank you for your informative piece. However, I take issue with the fact that economy is good. As a business community we still need more capital investment/purchases by companies and consumers. To much cash is being held on to by companies and the banks are being to cautious with their lending. This is the slowest recovery in history from a recession or depression based on GDP figures. We have a long ways to go and yes, that will require even more drivers once we get there.

It certainly is a difficult situation to be a driver today because of regulations and increased traffic congestion around our major cities. And, the major issue of their compensation. They get paid less than they have historically because of very competitive pricing situations brought on by many companies being a "booking" entity whose sole purpose is to get the price down as low as possible for their clientele as well as their sustainability/profitability. This makes it much harder to pay a decent wage to get a to person perform the difficult profession of an commercial truck driver. If wages for them go up the shortage will decrease. So the question is..Where will the margin come from to pay the drivers more?

6.18.14

Reply

Steve

That is a great idea for a web site. It could be used by drivers as well as carriers and brokers. Maybe warehouseexperience.com or similar, where drivers would post things such as no restrooms for drivers, 4 hour wait in the hot sun, etc. and brokers and carriers could post such things as, shipper held trucks up for 4 hours and refused to pay detention charges. Positives about customers could also be posted, such as shipper gives drivers a beeper so they can sleep while they wait, pays on time, etc..

Then a rating system can be employed like a CSA score carriers get, this would help when rating freight to see a problem customer, before you take the freight. The market then will force effiencies on shippers and receivers by rating their freight by the amount of work, known to move said freight. Once problem shippers are identified by all parties in the transaction the pricing structure they face will encourage behavior modification.

6.26.14

Reply

wayne

A rating system of shippers is a very good idea. The CTA in Canada needs to come with system like that the drivers as well as their members can see. In Canada many large to midsize trucking companies have been using offshore drivers to keep wages lower than other jobs. In Canada over 60% of truck drivers are doing other jobs that pay better and/or more home time. Many farmers in Canada in the past would haul flatbed freight or produce for other farmers. The high cost of truck insurance in Ontario and low rates caused by APTA bring in foreign drivers has pushed many of these farmers to park the trucks and get other off farm jobs like installing natural gas or building wind turbines. Truck drivers are expected to break the rules by many OTA and CTA members as well shippers. Both the U.S> and government in Canada need to set trucking rates and force large trucking companies 6 or more trucks to pay overtime and fine any trucking that not paying for dock time or off the E-log if the driver requests that.

7.16.14

Reply

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