Turnover rate flat: Were drivers too busy to change jobs as 2020 ended?

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The annualized turnover rate for over-the-road truckload drivers held steady in the last three months of 2020, according to the American Trucking Associations' Quarterly Employment Report. The association's chief economist suggests drivers may have been "too busy to chan get jobs."

In the fourth quarter, the turnover rate for truckload fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue was unchanged at a 92% annualized rate, while the churn rate for smaller truckload carriers dipped two percentage points to 72%.

"With the continued tightness in the driver market, it may seem surprising that the turnover rate didn't jump in the fourth quarter as economic activity and freight traffic increased," said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. "However, paradoxically, strong freight demand may have actually contributed to turnover staying steady by keeping drivers – particularly those engaged in the dry van and temperature-controlled sectors – too busy to change jobs."

He said the recently passed fiscal stimulus, and the quickening pace of vaccinations in the U.S., make it likely the trucking industry will see continued improvement in the economy, which will drive healthier freight volumes, and are likely yo create even more demand for drivers. Costello also warned carriers to remain focused on driver retention.

"While the driver shortage temporarily eased slightly in 2020 during the depths of the pandemic, continued tightness in the driver market remains an operational challenge for motor carriers and they should expect it to continue through 2021 and beyond," said Costello.

The turnover rate at less-than-truckload carriers, typically much lower than the rate at truckload fleets, dipped two percentage points in the fourth quarter to 12% on an annualized basis – one percentage point off the 13% turnover LTLs averaged in 2020.

For the full year, the annualized turnover rate at large truckload carriers averaged 90%, down one point from 2019. The annual average rate at smaller truckload fleets was 69% in 2020, down from 72% in the previous year.