Is Driver Turnover a Millennial Story?

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The team at Stay Metrics spends a lot of time examining our client’s driver turnover data. A few weeks ago one of our analysts produced a graph that has caused a lot of discussion around our office. But first, some context.

More than one in every three workers in the United States is now between 21 and 35 years old. The Millennial generation has become the largest segment of the workforce, overtaking Gen Xers (36 to 50) and Baby Boomers (51+).

The demographics of the truck driving profession, however, have not moved as quickly in this direction. More than half of all truck operators are 45 and older based on a 2015 study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

Experts agree that the age demographics of truck drivers must change to keep up with industry growth and to replace the number of Baby Boomers who will be retiring during the next decade. To this end, the American Trucking Associations estimates that 89,000 new drivers will need to be brought into the industry every year.

Insights from our Driver Database

Knowing the critical role that Millennial drivers are expected to play in the industry; we decided to mine the Stay Metrics driver database for insights. From the database, we examined the data from 20,383 drivers from 54 carriers who were hired between January 1, 1980, and February 28, 2015. The initial analysis showed that 9,835 (48.2%) drivers remained active for their carrier and 10,548 (51.8%) had become inactive, meaning they had left the carrier. While the percent of drivers becoming inactive is not the same as an individual carrier’s annual turnover rate (the database is examining several years of data); we wondered if continued analysis might lend additional insights.

Figure One displays the results of analyzing the data by driver age. As depicted below, we found that the highest rate of drivers becoming inactive/leaving their carrier (75 percent) is for drivers between 21 and 25 years old. The rate drops in a nearly linear relationship with age and reaches the lowest point (38 percent) for drivers 61 and older.

Figure One

When we group the driver database into categories we find:

  • 68.8% of Millennial drivers (21-35)  became inactive,
  • 54.6% of Gen X (36 – 50) drivers became inactive,
  • 42.5% of Baby Boomers/Older (51-61+) drivers became inactive.

These observations are similar to anecdotes and comments that our clients and industry colleagues have shared. The paradox for many carriers is that recruiting younger drivers is a vital strategy; younger drivers appear to leave carriers at the highest rates; whether to change jobs or leave the industry altogether.

Generational differences?

What was your reaction upon seeing this graph? Was it jump on the bandwagon and blame the Millenials? It is common to hear people explain turnover among younger drivers as a generational problem. For example, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers might say Millennials want immediate rewards and have a sense of entitlement that leads to dissatisfaction and frequent job hopping.

What some Gen Xers and Baby Boomers may have forgotten is that they may have exhibited the same characteristics early in their careers. In the ’70s and ’80s, Baby Boomers likely had a similar propensity to change jobs. And the then “old-timers” might have been quick to blame the problem on those “darn hippies.”

It seems true that every generation tends to think of subsequent generations as being different than their own. While differences do exist, generalizations and stereotypes are not necessarily helpful in addressing the turnover problem. Indeed, another way to look at the phenomena is not to blame the Millennial cohort; but to recognize that younger people (in general, independent of their generation) may be more likely to change jobs, as well as industries. Being a Millennial may be part of the story — but the story is also one of youth. As one’s age increases it also tends to mean greater maturity and more stable relationships (such as marriage and children). People tend to “settle down” – literally and figuratively.

In search of solutions

To recruit and retain younger drivers, fleet executives and managers will have to address the challenge on several fronts. It all starts with gaining a deeper understanding of the root causes of early exits, from drivers of all ages. Here are some questions that a carrier might ask:

  • What are my turnover/retention rates among drivers of different ages?
  • What are my turnover/retention rates among NEW drivers of different ages?
  • Are younger drivers more or less likely to reach 6 months tenure?

Once a carrier determines its trends; the next step is to use information from various driver surveys and other operational information; to see if causes are apparent.

Our research consistently shows that a great deal of driver turnover is rooted in gaps between expectations and experiences.

In addition to mismatched expectations, a carrier could find a communication gap (real or perceived) between drivers and dispatchers of different ages. Perhaps younger drivers have different expectations about how a carrier will use technology; or how their driving schedule matches their lifestyle needs.

Stay Metrics continues to research driver retention from all angles, including what strategies are working best for younger drivers. We will look at the turnover factors that might be attributed to generational differences; and which might more dependent on age (or youth). We will also continue to look at early turnover (drivers of all ages who leave within the first six months).

As we move forward with new research, we would like to know your thoughts? Are you seeing similar trends in your driver turnover? More importantly, what strategies are working for you?

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3 thoughts on “Is Driver Turnover a Millennial Story?”

  • Great story, As I study more on this subject myself I tend to find communication as a big issue among the drivers that talk with. Consistency is part of relationship building metrics. Once that is established then you can improve on employee engagement which will improve employee retention. Just my though process.

  • As more and more millennials enter the workforce, companies are scrambling to figure out how to retain their younger employees. Or at least so says The Wall Street Journal , which is the latest contributor to a long line of stories in many outlets about a generation that, as the Journal puts it, “won’t stay put in a job for long.”

  • I enjoyed the part that redirected “blame” towards youth rather than the millennial generation – it makes sense. A younger person is more likely to desire something more/different after a period of time in a role than one who is in, say, their 40’s. Plus, they simply have fewer dependencies that will fall in the crossfire of their decisions and actions. Also, desire for experience may play a role here. Younger workers are seeking affirmation for their early career choices, especially the employer or industry they choose. Likely, those Gen X/Baby Boomers have already experienced life in other jobs, and are more confident with their decision to be, in this example, a truck driver…thus less likely to churn in the eyes of workplace adversity or stagnancy.

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