Truck Driver Turnover: Trends, Costs, and Tips for Improving Retention 

truck driver starting new job

By FleetCardsUSA

July 3, 2020

Turnover for a single driver can cost your business up to $15,000 in replacement and missed opportunity costs. Industry-wide, the numbers are staggering: driver turnover costs the trucking industry a whopping $2.8 billion per year.

When you consider the costs of hiring, onboarding, and training new drivers, then face watching that investment go down the drain when the driver doesn’t work out or resigns, it’s easy to see why driver turnover is a major problem for fleet operators and over-the-road businesses.

Not surprisingly, trends vary somewhat, depending on what kind of fleet is involved and how long the driver has been on the job; however, all areas seem to be experiencing shortages when it comes to loyal and reliable drivers. And turnover rates are headed upward.

Turnover is especially high among so-called “early-stage” drivers – those who have been on the job less than a year. For example,

  • 70% of drivers leave a carrier within the first year
  • 57% of newly hired drivers leave within the first 6 months
  • 35% of new drivers make it through the first 90 days on the job

The turnover rate for large fleets with more than $30 million in revenue hovered in the +80% range for 2018 and 2019, while turnover for small fleets fell slightly to 73%. Rates were lowest among LTL (less-than-truckload) fleets at around 15%.1

Causes of the driver shortfall

A number of factors contribute to the growing driver shortfall.

  • New drivers cite disengagement issues – many feeling that their supervisors don’t understand their problems.
  • New drivers often don’t get sufficient training and orientation during the onboarding process and consequently don’t feel “part of the team.”
  • Seasoned drivers often cite issues with the administrative side of the job – keeping logbooks, getting used to using electronic logging devices (ELDs).
  • Older drivers are choosing to retire, especially in light of the threat of exposure to coronavirus.

The shortage of drivers, particularly big-rig drivers, had made the news prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Interestingly, while some types of hauling have decreased, specific industries and geographic areas have seen a surge. In any case the backlog of unfilled jobs will likely continue until driver training organizations and DMVs are back to full operating schedules.

Retention: the ever-present challenge

So what can a fleet manager do to address this growing problem?

If you’re a small business, hire carefully, then take even greater care building and nurturing the relationship with your drivers. For a small business, employees tend to be like family. Think of your drivers this way, even though they’re out of sight a good bit of the time. Remember that your driver is the face of your brand to many of your customers, and may be the only member of your team that the customer sees in person. Remember birthdays, take note of their children or significant others, and try to keep up with what’s going on in their lives.

If you’re a medium-sized company with a local fleet, remember that one size rarely fits all when it comes to management and working styles. Some drivers feel neglected if you don’t check in with them regularly and painstakingly prepare their routes. Others feel smothered with what they see as interruptions during the day and micromanagement of their schedules and routes. Ask for feedback and adjust when and where it makes sense.

If you head a team of over-the-road drivers, treat them like professionals. Offer career coaching, opportunities to advance, a retirement plan, and health benefits. And respect their need for work-life balance just as you would for a small local fleet. Provide for downtime and time at home; encourage healthy habits while on the road. Most of all, help them feel secure with a stable workload and a reliable on-time paycheck.

All drivers appreciate well-maintained equipment with a few state-of-the-art touches and benefits that make driving more enjoyable, like a fleet card for convenient fuel purchases, a snack allowance, and compensation for extra services performed.

One promising trend

The number of women in trucking continues to grow. Although only 7.9% of drivers are women, there was a 28.7% increase in women drivers from 2017 to 2018. According to Leah Shaver, COO of the National Trucking Institute, women are not only safer drivers, they have fewer accidents and stay on the job longer.2

 

1”Driver turnover rates head in opposite directions, says ATA.”  17 July 2019. https://www.logisticsmgmt.com/article/driver_turnover_rates_head_in_opposite_directions_says_ata. Accessed May 1, 2020.

2 “Top Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Qualified Drivers,” 10 March 2020. https://www.womenintrucking.org/index.php?option=com_dailyplanetblog&view=entry&year=2020&month=03&day=09&id=117:top-strategies-for-attracting-and-retaining-qualified-drivers. Accessed April 29, 2020.

Truck Driver Turnover: Trends, Costs, and Tips for Improving Retention