Dedicated contract carriage, one of the industry’s fastest growing segments and one that traditionally avoids the sharpest impacts of shortage cycles, is not immune to the challenges of attracting and retaining drivers these days.
According to the Journal of Commerce, dedicated is starting to feel the same pinch of the driver shortages that is affecting other parts of the industry.
Paul Bowman, senior vice president of sales at U.S. Xpress, said during a panel discussion at an Armstrong & Associates conference on third-party logistics that his company’s business planning centers on three priorities: “The first one is drivers — how do we find them and keep them? The second one is drivers, and the third one is drivers.”
“It’s by far the overarching issue within the context of our business.”
Dedicated carriage’s share of U.S. Xpress’s approximately $1 billion in annual truckload revenue is 38 percent and rising, Bowman said.
Thomas Scollard, vice president of Penske Logistics, said motor carriers converting a private fleet into dedicated contract carriage used to be able to count on keeping the private fleet’s drivers.
“Now when we get a new piece of business, we almost have to look at it as a greenfield operation,” Scollard said. “If it’s a 100-driver operation, we’re probably going to have to go out and hire 100 new drivers. That’s just the landscape we’re in today.”
Scollard said drivers have more options and no longer see dedicated fleets as necessarily easier than over-the-road, for-hire trucking. He cited driver dissatisfaction with irregular hours and weekend work, stressful working conditions, and pay that “is not commensurate with what we ask them to do.”
Some shippers allow their dedicated carrier to balance its loads with another customer’s inbound freight, which reduces transportation costs for both shippers and improves utilization for the carrier.
But waiting times at the additional stops can tie up truck capacity and anger drivers who are paid by the mile and aren’t fully compensated for the additional waiting time to pick up and deliver the backhaul load. “Guess what the driver does when he comes back,” Bowman said. “He puts the keys on the desk and says, ‘I’m out.’”
Bowman said a fundamental cause of driver shortages is a “generational gap,” and that the industry needs to solve the problem of replacing older workers as they retire. He said many new drivers in their early 20s are “just dabbling” in trucking before taking a job in construction or some other industry.
Bowman questioned whether higher pay will solve the problem. “I don’t know that the money is going to fix it,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good $85,000-plus driving jobs out there that we’re still struggling to fill.”
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