Driver Shortage Costing Trucking Companies

by Marty Cook  on Monday, May. 26, 2014 12:00 am  

Steve Williams

Steve Williams, like a lot of trucking executives, can’t help but think of the unfulfilled possibilities.

Sure, Williams’ Maverick USA Inc. of North Little Rock reported 2013 revenue of $315 million, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2012, to hold onto its place as the second-largest private transportation company in Arkansas. But, if Williams had a few more — or a lot more — drivers, he could have used them.

The trucking industry’s driver shortage problem has hit just about every company hard and where it hurts: on the bottom line. Capacity is down, and shipments are just waiting for trucks.

“I could easily — easily — use 500 more drivers right now,” Williams said. “He who has the drivers will have the business. That’s the name of the game.”

Maverick, predominantly a flatbed trailer company, has an additional issue to contend with because Williams insists that his flatbed drivers have specialized training in dealing with load safety.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and good drivers have been hard to find for some time,” Williams said. “It’s a challenge that is only going to be met with a lot of additional money for compensation. We are having to bring a lot of nontraditional truck drivers into the field.”

Nontraditional means extra training. Along those lines, Williams decided to spend approximately $4 million to improve and expand his company’s on-site training facility, and the facility is expected to have its grand opening on June 18.

Williams said the new facility will have an additional 13,000 SF, four classrooms and a handful of bays where prospective drivers can get hands-on experience with load security, something more important in flatbed deliveries.

Williams said training a flatbed driver is costly so retention is imperative. Maverick hired 948 drivers in 2013, he said, and all but four had to complete the training center’s five-week program.

“It wasn’t too many years ago we only hired people who had a lot of experience in pulling a flatbed,” Williams said. “Seventy-five percent now are people who came through the finishing program. The good news here is we have great safety numbers. The good news is this works — it just costs a hell of a lot of money.”

Williams said his company’s success has been both on the road with improved revenue and behind the wheel, where Maverick has a 63 percent driver turnover rate. That’s actually an impressively low turnover rate considering that the turnover rate for the industry overall is 90 percent. Maverick’s low rate has allowed it to take advantage of the improving economy and rising demand for shipments, although not as fully as possible.

Williams expects the successful companies to continue to grow as the trucking herd is thinned by rising costs. Maverick is looking to acquire companies that are struggling in the new atmosphere, he said.

“That is going to accelerate people’s interest in selling their business,” Williams said. “This is a different industry than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. This is not for the faint of heart.”

 

 

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