Driver Shortage? It’s Worst at the Big Carriers

DeAnna Swinton
Published on February 22, 2016

There’s a driver shortage, right? Maybe yes. Maybe no. It depends on who you ask.

The fact is, since early 2012, the number of for-hire drivers has increased by 409,286, representing a 21% increase, and bringing the total number of drivers to 2,354,547. This is a huge story that nobody’s talking or writing about.

Ask the largest carriers if there’s a driver shortage ─most will say “absolutely.”  And they’re right, from a certain limited point of view. The biggest carriers have a very hard time filling seats and keeping them filled. So yes, there’s a driver shortage if you’re a large carrier. No doubt.

Ask the largest shippers if there’s a driver shortage. Most will say “yes.”  And they’re right, too. The biggest shippers often deal with the biggest carriers, keeping a number of the nation’s largest 100 carriers on speed dial. So by definition, the biggest shippers, because they make heavy use of the biggest carriers, have a driver shortage.

So where are the 409,000+ new drivers? Since 2012, they’ve largely supercharged growth in the micro-, small and mid-sized fleets. For example, the number of micro-fleets (1-6 trucks) increased by 42%; the number of small fleets (7-9 trucks) increased by 29%; mid-size (20-100 trucks) increased by 22%. While during that time the number of larger fleets (101-500) grew 14% and the largest (501+) grew by 10%. Every fleet size grew since 2012, but the clear winners of the driver war are the smaller and mid-size fleets.

The takeaway: align yourself with smaller and mid-size fleets, and brokers who specialize in the thriving middle of the market. Establish strong partnerships and open lines of communication. Some words of caution regarding the big name brokers—they make prolific use of owner operators. You’ve got to ask yourself—is that the kind of capacity you need? Is that the kind of capacity a business can rely upon?

(Data source: FMCSA & QualifiedCarriers.com)

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