Flatbed Trucking: Industry Changes and Driver Shortage
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.