Trucking Industry Trends: 2021

3 hiring and employment-related insights

The trucking industry, like so many other industries, is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sharp swings in demand for goods and products, sweeping shelter-in-place restrictions and general concern over contracting the disease have put employee-related issues in the spotlight. Here, we share some of the latest industry trends facing motor carriers and fleet operators as the industry heads into 2021 looking for ways to hire and retain the best talent.

Ending 2020 with notable shifts

Though overall trucking employment is down 3.9 percent—from 1.54 million in November 2019 to 1.48 million in November 2020—it plummeted 22.5 percent within the transit and ground transportation sector, according to Monthly Transportation Statistics by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Likewise, truck tonnage is also down by nearly 7 percent from November 2019 to November 2020.

Related numbers help explain these dips. Ridership on public buses sank more than 50 percent, as did other forms of public transportation during that same period, accounting for the employment reduction in transit and ground transportation. Overall highway travel also declined more than 11 percent, which correlates with the decrease in truck tonnage.

It’s not surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible, in part, for the current state of the industry. Drops in consumer spending, stark business limitations and public agency closures directly impacted the flow of goods and services inside and outside the U.S., causing slow-downs across the trucking and transportation industry.

Trends to look for in 2021

According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), some issues are critically important within the trucking industry as we enter the new year. Here are the most important employment-related concerns identified by the ATRI in its annual survey of more than 3,100 industry stakeholders.

  • Driver shortages. Above all other issues—including those not related to employment—the shortage of drivers tops the list of industry concerns. According to the ATRI report, this is due to attrition related to retiring drivers and those exiting the industry due to COVID-19 concerns. More than a fourth of the driver population, 27 percent, is 55 or older. In response, trucking companies are diversifying their candidate pool by tapping into younger applicants, as well as females and minorities.
  • Driver retention. Retaining qualified drivers is another big issue. According to an American Trucking Association (ATA) third-quarter 2020 analysis, “the turnover rate at truckload carriers with more than $30 million in annual revenue rose 10 percentage points to 92 percent on an annualized basis.” Though increased churn is sometimes viewed as a sign of instability, it’s a good sign of increased hiring activity within the trucking industry, which has been hurt by small candidate pools and decreased capacity at training centers due to COVID-related restrictions.
  • Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA). The CSA is a decade-old safety compliance and enforcement program launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to improve safety and prevent commercial motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities. Over the years, carriers have struggled with various aspects of the program. Still the recent ATRI report reveals that carriers are increasingly focused on the program’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) reports. These reports help inform the hiring process by providing safety insights around a candidate’s crash and inspection history. To ensure the most efficient and effective hiring process, carriers are more closely evaluating the differences between the CSA’s PSP reports and motor vehicle reports required for driver qualification files on new hires.

As the economy slowly recovers in the coming months and years, motor carriers should consider using this time to build a stress-tested hiring and retention strategy. A strategy that helps them efficiently screen, train and onboard the best candidate while also complying with a mix of strict industry guidelines.

At First Advantage we can help. First Advantage RoadReady√TM offers a total compliance solution for drivers and vehicles, including everything from customized compliance fleet management and fulfillment of licensing, permitting and reporting requirements to DOT and non-DOT background checks and drug testing and comprehensive driver qualification file management. Learn more at:

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