Driver shortage: Many are called, fewer are chosen

| September 02, 2013

Part 1 in this series, “Countdown to a capacity crunch, and a boost in rates?”, looked at data showing a disconnect between capacity and driver demand. Find it here.


FUELING DRIVER DEMAND. These key factors are creating a demand for nearly 100,000 new drivers each year over the coming decade as experienced drivers reach retirement age and trucking continues to grow, says the American Trucking Associations.

FUELING DRIVER DEMAND | These key factors are creating a demand for nearly 100,000 new drivers each year over the coming decade as experienced drivers reach retirement age and trucking continues to grow, says the American Trucking Associations.

The last capacity crunch, roughly 2004-08, is considered to have been a great time for the industry by some participants.

Steve Williams, chief executive officer of Maverick USA, looks no further than his bottom line to know that the balance of transportation supply and demand again has shifted in favor of carriers, even if it’s not a repeat of 2004.

“The capacity shortage is very real,” says Williams, a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations. “But now I’ve got more business than I have drivers. The name of the game from here on out is recruiting, training and retention.”

Why do so many carriers continue to experience difficulty finding new drivers?

Why do carriers have difficulty finding new drivers

Among the 1,344 respondents to the above poll, more than 100 readers submitted comments, including these:

Wade: Carriers with solid business models and management are not struggling to find drivers. Carriers with weak business models and weak management teams make excuses instead of positive changes.

JW: If they are going to be regulating by the hour, then they need to begin paying by the hour … multiplied by 70 to 80 hours a week. I am finally getting back into trucking after a four-year leave and can honestly say it is out of control. I was a fuel desk cashier for the past six months, and it amazed me the quality of drivers being hired these days!

Jrs2slow: If you got into trucking and thought you were only going to work 40 or even 50 hours a week, it’s time to think again. And after 27 years of driving both OTR and local and seeing what is happening with drivers and companies, I knew it was only a matter of time before the government dropped the boom on everyone, and that is what they have done.

Bob Moore: [The driver shortage] is due to FMCSA changing the rules (HOS) without knowing much about trucking. Our pay rates not increasing much over the years doesn’t help much. Also, companies treating drivers like we are a dime a dozen has caused a lot of the problems.

Lowridin Truck Drivin: I think a lot of it has to do with these “starter companies.” While they’re great at helping new drivers get a start, they’re like puppy mills, churning out drivers with no plan for retention. That’s why most new drivers don’t make it past six months with their first company. They feel abused and left hung out to dry. 

Fred Flintstone AKA Big Al P: First off, the trainers are not from the OLD SCHOOL and have no idea what makes a Professional Truck Driver. Today we have Steering Wheel Holders! Trainers are not from the old school where we had time to help one another.

Martymarsh: I worked for a guy that had seven trucks, and he said that there is only one secret to keeping drivers: Tell them what you are going to pay them, and then pay them. In the three years I was there, he didn’t need to hire any drivers. I would still be there if he hadn’t sold the business.

Maverick, a longtime flatbed carrier that has expanded by adding specialized glass and refrigerated divisions, is “almost back” to its pre-recession seated truck count.

Williams calls 2012’s turnover “normal” at 58 percent, which is well below the industry average for large truckload carriers – typically about 100 percent. Maverick also grew by 250 trucks, its best total for a year without an acquisition. Along with financial and safety performances that were “stellar,” the year was the company’s best ever for recruiting, he says.

By this summer, the fleet was reduced by 105 trucks, while turnover was up slightly. However, recruiting statistics are “unbelievably different,” as Williams details.

Year-to-date in 2012: 16,316 leads processed, with 674 drivers hired; YTD 2013: 30,210 leads – or nearly double 2012’s to-date total – yet only 559 hires, or 115 fewer.

“Frequency is up,” he says. “More leads and more apps, but we’re rejecting an unprecedented number for one reason or another.”

Williams points out that Maverick is particularly cautious in its hires: The process includes hair follicle testing and sleep apnea screening. But Williams and Maverick have long advocated strict driver qualifications: Now other carriers must think twice, in the CSA environment, about looking the other way when it comes to new hires with spotty driving records.

“It’s time to continue to make it difficult to get in this industry and stay in this industry,” he says. “If you can’t cut it, get out.”

Given that the economy has not been robust, Williams says the growing supply/demand imbalance is capacity-driven.

“When we have little spot surges, like we’ve had in building materials, there are no trucks to haul it,” he says. But a sustained shortage of equipment – one that will allow carriers to set consistently higher prices – has yet to emerge.

“There’s a solution – pay drivers more money,” Williams says. “That attracts better talent. But you can’t have just one shipper that sees the light and gives you more money. You’ve got to have all the shippers see the light so you can raise your rates across all your lanes.” 

Plan B: No experience required
For many carriers, a new driver is preferable to an experienced driver with bad habits, especially one with the bad driving history to prove it.

Lou Spoonhour, president of DriveCo and a former chairman of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, says it’s about time for such a shift.

“I’ve been at this for 34 years, and we’re hearing from trucking companies that I’ve never heard the names of before,” Spoonhour says. “All of a sudden, entry-level is opening up as if it’s a brand-new field.”

“There’s a solution – pay drivers more money…. That attracts better talent. But you can’t have just one shipper that sees the light and gives you more money.” –Maverick’s Steve Williams on difficulty raising rates

Most CVTA schools also have regular, direct contact with carrier safety departments to stay up to date with hiring criteria.

“Sometimes the experienced driver is set in his ways, whereas a student is a clean slate and can be molded,” Spoonhour says. “That’s what we claim to be our advantage – they’re coming out with no extra baggage.” Typically, driving school graduates will go on to a carrier’s finishing school for more advanced training.

The average student age is “probably 35 to 40, where it used to be 28 to 33,” Spoonhour said. “We’ve started to get an increase in skilled workers, like electricians, carpenters, plumbers who made a living in the construction trades. We’ve found that trucking is a good option for ‘hands-on’ people. Or they have friends or relatives who drive.”

Students also see truck driving as a lasting opportunity that won’t be shipped overseas, Spoonhour says.

In order to maintain a 95 percent placement rate for its 200 to 300 students each year, DriveCo screens extensively. Students have to be able to pass a physical and a drug screen, and they’re subject to random drug tests while in school. Additionally, the school checks the prospective student’s driving record and criminal history. Pre-enrollment interviews are designed to make sure the students understand trucking and that the business will be a good fit with their personal goals.


Stay tuned for the Wednesday, Sept. 4, final installment in the series, with four driving veterans’ views on who’s taking the wheel today. 

  • RalphMalph

    15 years or so, Transport Topics had a cartoon of a potential driver hire interviewing with the caption ….

    ” We can start you out at next to nothing, and with hard work and diligence, in 20 years you can be making almost double that ”

    Pretty much sums it up, wouldn’t you agree ?

  • RalphMalph

    I’ll give you an Amen on that thought Marty !

  • RalphMalph

    As I posted above friend, I have his company motto ….

    ” We can start you out at next to nothing, and with hard work and diligence, in 20 years you can be making almost double that “


    These things are never big enough to say much in. So suffice it to say that 14 years ago I began driving as a career. I had basically first been trained to drive trucks, back in 1974, by what today, are called old school drivers. I made 5 cents a mile driving this guys old International from San Antonio TX, to Liberal Kansas and back, hauling (can you believe this!) hanging beef. What a ride it was
    back then. Yeeee haw! So 14 yrs ago, I decided to start doing it again (driving). At that time. Schneider International was one of the best places I was told to go, since at that time many drivers I had talked to said that their schooling was second to none. Today, that is no longer anywhere near true from what I hear. I must say though, that 14 years ago it was. Problem with them then as it is now, is that they require the person to stay 6 months and you are put into a truck with another student driver, driving teams! First red flag! WHAT! Your putting two new drivers in one truck! HOLY CHIT! Though I
    already had driving skills from earlier days, the guy put with me was an idiot! Okay we move on.
    I left there as fast as I could, and then I ran the gambit of various companies, like Martin, K&B, U.S. Express, Swift and many others until I landed on a smaller company to
    drive for. The problems were many. There was no two weeks out and home! It was more like, we’ll get you home some day when it suits us. Pay was terrible even after 5 years. Medical packages were a joke if you got one at all. And the hours! Talk about looking the federal HOS laws
    in the face and spitting on them! These places were atrocious for telling drivers to jeopardize their class A cdl’s all for their own greed by trying to make them drive much more past federal regulations. A driver was not anything important to any of them. They all seemed to go with the thought that all drivers are expendable. Problem is, that as stated by others, they were puppy mills churning
    out what would be the equivalent of putting new born blind puppies onto the highways and byways of America’s roads. Leaving everyone on the road into danger. They simply don’t care. I never got a ticket, over 100 weigh station Inspections and never one violation on my
    person, (trucks sometimes got marks against them . Mostly due to poor maintenance), not one accident nor damage to any companies vehicles, and still , no matter where I went, I was always treated like some
    sewer dog with a bad case of mange. I even went Independent for 3 years, But when the fuel prices started getting too high, I sold my truck and bailed out of the whole thing. Seems I just couldn’t catch a break. The trucking industry has many problems, way too many to
    list here and discuss. But it, like many other things, needs to be redone from the ground up I think.

  • martymarsh

    I agree about the top brass usually making to much, while the bottom gets peanuts.
    My point was, that they couldn’t afford it back then because of all of the companies that went under. There is a very long list of companies that were union in the 70’s that are no longer around I would say mostly do to greed, and I don’t mind telling you, it was management and the unions.
    When there are unions, there is to much corruption.
    So, do we actually need unions, not in the sense of what they are today, simply because the union is nothing more than a security enterprise for the company, meaning they protect the company not the member.
    What we need is a new union that don’t benefit so much, that they can give millions to political parties.
    A new union that can’t afford to have conferences in Vegas or Hawaii, but stays where they are suppose to be to protect the worker.
    But because unions have become big business themselves, you will never see this.
    I spent , or I should say wasted, 16 years in the teamsters, and I know corruption when I see it. As a matter of fact I was harassed out of the teamsters, so if you have no problem with them doing things like that to people, then you don’t want things to be fair, you are just greedy.
    Unions, management, and the word fair don’t go together.
    This country will never be more corrupt than it is today.

  • Ray Garcia

    Yeah, “get out” doesn’t surprise me. All they would like to see is the guys who have been around long enough to know a bad deal when they see one, and to know when they are being shit on by the big people to “get out’. They would rather have some fresh slaves that they can “mold” into the kind of driver they want. They don’t want someone who will defend themselves or demand a fair wage and respect! They want someone they can take advantage of (pay them less, offer little or no benefits, violate their constitutional rights which most of our new comers don’t know). Besides, there are so many drivers on the market that they can just “get another slave” at will. This is exactly what they want, getting enough drivers out there to use up at their disposal! How crafty and underhanded is that? “The scales have been tipped”, I’m afraid, and it doesn’t look like we experienced drivers have a fair shot anymore. All the jobs have been shipped to Mexico or, Mexico has come here to take them!

  • Ray Garcia

    You know it, They are all “sleeping in the same bed”!

  • martymarsh

    Now that is a fact.

  • Mike Hinze

    It was reported just at the end of last year that driver turnover rate was over 100% for large and small carriers. Anyone who has ever driven a truck knows why. The trucking companies lie though their teeth from advertising, to orientation, to the drivers seat. When the driver catches the lie and attempts to leave the company, oh no, now lets hit the drivers up on DAC. This crap has been going for decades! It appears no one in the industry wants to talk about false DAC reporting being an issue in driver shortage.

    The trucking companies are their own worst enemy. They have all brought this on themselves.

  • RalphMalph


    I did a few years with JB … something I swore I’d NEVER do if I was starvin’ !
    I was lucky and landed in Philly on a Dedicated site and we were THE highest paid drivers in all of JB.

    Anywho, at the E. Brunswick story-tellin’ week the JB guy running the show made it a point to tell the gang that in any given year JB rolls over about 55-60% of the driver force.

    Here’s the best part …. in any given year they have around 12,000 drivers, if I recall the number correctly. I recall sitting there and thinkin’ to myself …. ‘ Self, they don’t give a sh*t if you stay or go, cause they got some other schmuck to hit your seat before it gets cold ‘

    Here’s the bad part of that High Turnover that I have yet to see addressed in this conversation.

    When JB or Maverick chews you up and spits you out, it ain’t over, because you’re Blackballed via DAQ with their sour-grapes … could you blame anyone who would go Postal on them ?

  • Ajax

    Boy, lotta Maverick haters here. Lemme guess, you guys are all pissed because you applied with them and they didn’t hire you? Probably good for Maverick that they didn’t.

  • martymarsh

    Celadon is just another tool, the blame goes to the Englands, the CRST’s the government and the greed of the unions. The government sold you out and everyone else is just playing the game, and the only reason I blame anyone besides the government because they have become rich off the game. This you will be happy to know, is the democrats way of creating jobs, even if they pay nothing.
    Oh yes, and let us not forget about ATA.

  • unwildbill

    If they say they pay for “loaded and empty miles”, why don’t they pay for miles on your way home, it’s not like you decide where your last load is going……And ESPECIALLY when home winds up being on the way to your next pickup!

  • DonM

    Steve Williams hit the nail on the head. You have got to pay good money if you want good drivers. And you have got to give them some flexible options for getting home. The new HOS rules are also idiotic and counter productive to keeping the trucking business profitable.

    A driver in good physical shape that know the road should be able to drive 84 hours a week if he wants to. And do it when he wants to without a mandatory rest period causing massive congestion in the rest areas and truck stops. A driver that can run a truck year after year in a responsible manner, should be able to earn 100K per year, And be able to retire with some dignity and financial security after 20 years of working hard.

  • Hawkeye

    Someone like me who is 45 and a recent CDL grad who just got into trucking after 20+ yrs. of construction where are we suppose to go for a job besides a big company like Maverick or Schneider where they put out tons of new drivers a year? I applied at smaller more local companies and it is the same thing every time,” Sorry but, we are looking for someone with atleast a years otr experience”. I have no speeding tickets, no accidents, no D.U.I’s, and never been arrested but without driving experience I can’t get a driving job unless I go to a big company.

  • Matt

    It’s been said many times in these comments. IF there was a huge driver shortage then wages (and rates) would necessarily be going up. I don’t see that. It’s just too easy to hire a newbee and train him on the Govt. dime and send him out in a truck. Why would companies have a 58-100% turnover rate if they paid well and had some respect for their drivers. I think they have lost their minds. Pay a driver a fair wage, give him decent equipment and reasonable home time and you’d have an employee for life. I’ve worked in trucking my whole life and love the industry but the direction it’s taken in the past 10-15 years is just sad. I blame the large carriers and the govt for 90% of the problems but to hear the ATA it’s the outlaw renegade small operators that are the problem. What a joke.

  • Dave

    You can mold a driver out of a trucking school? Why yes you can. Heres 300.00 a week for staying out a month. “O shit you wrecked the truck”. You did what backing in to a dock? Its going to cost how much to fix that drivers truck? You tore another clutch out? According to a JB Hunt manager I know. JB learned the hard way. Now they want experienced drivers. They might consider a school graduate in the future. They still want little yes men though. He even wanted me to sign my truck on. YEAH RIGHT! But good luck with all that. Hours of service will eventually cost these big companies to. School graduates or experienced drivers. Customers want their product yesterday. And thats what us old school drivers provide. SERVICE! Not that there isn’t morons out there that screw up. And doesn’t know their capabilities. And Maverick? With their cheap freight, they will hire green drivers. Because they don’t know any better what kind of money they need.

  • smokedbacon

    I like the “New Pay Package” a copy and paste from over 30 years ago” and at less !

  • D. C .

    Steve Williams another truck stop cowboy with all the answers. I got selected out of 50 drivers to be molded in his military style training school. That was ten years ago what a joke. Another company that got to smart for there own good. Nothing would please me more than see him eat a whole humble pie. Companys like his is what’s killing it for every body else that’s trying to work. Get in bed with the goverment Williams maybe you can swallow to. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.