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When reading U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, I have learned to “feel the data” rather than get too absorbed in the technicalities of advanced statistical techniques. Although I tend to keep in mind the adage, “there are lies, damn lies and statistics,” this month’s report couldn’t be more straightforward.

For the first time in recorded history, the number of job openings in the U.S. is higher than the number of people looking for one. In other words, if we’re not already there, we seem to be approaching that magical state of full employment. Apparently, only 1-2 people out of every 100 who wants a job, doesn’t already have at least one.  Even more importantly, wages are on the rise.

The transportation industry provides a stellar example, as generally poor work conditions and industry pay has contributed to an abysmal churn rate that has finally come home to roost. “Carriers are having to spend more money on advertising to get people to apply, but only getting one to two drivers out of each 100 applications they receive,” said Tim Story, EVP of freight operations at Unishippers. “Between the training required, predominantly male-dominated field, age hurdles and more, carriers are having to pay drivers higher rates that will continue to increase. Right now, there aren’t enough qualified drivers in the applicant pool to satisfy the needs of the industry. Until a recruitment solution is identified, it will continue to be a problem.”

According to the recent American Truckers Association (ATA) study, the median salary for a truckload driver working a national irregular route increased 15% to over $53,000 annually, when compared to ATA’s last survey of about 5 years ago. Over the same period, private fleet drivers have seen an even larger salary increase, jumping 18% to $86,000 a year.  “This latest survey, which includes data from more than 100,000 drivers, shows that fleets are reacting to an increasingly tight market for drivers by boosting pay…” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist. And that’s not all. Drivers are successfully negotiating benefit packages that include better health benefits, retirement packages, paid leave —even signing bonuses. “This data demonstrates that fleets are reacting to concerns about the driver shortage by raising pay and working to make the job more attractive,” he said. “I expect that trend to continue as demand for trucking services increases as our economy grows.”

You don’t have to be a numbers guy to know that the balance of power has shifted when a company called WorkHound can quickly establish itself. Self-described as a mobile software platform that collects and analyzes driver feedback, the app is focused on reducing driver turnover. Among other things, it provides drivers a fast and easy way to anonymously lodge complaints against their employers. Frankly, it’s a great idea for any mobile workforce, but an idea whose time has come for an industry where driver complaints had fallen on relatively deaf ears for far too long.

With a national, annual churn rate of 95%, an average driver age of 55, and a turnover cost fast approaching $10,000 each, the return-on-investment for a platform like WorkHound can come fast. Go ahead and add-in the empty truck problem (a sidelined truck is estimated to be about a $1,000 a day problem) and top it off with the expense of running continuous recruitment and training operations that are now fumbling in pursuit of millennials. In that light, keeping a group of grumpy old men together would seem easy to justify at most any cost. Just kidding, kind of.

WorkHound is a smartphone-based app. As said, drivers use it to submit feedback, knowing that it’s safe and isn’t a waste of their time. WorkHound receives the data and distills them into recommendations that employers use to improve driver satisfaction and reduce turnover. Simple and smart.

Given its recent settlement of a national labor pact with Teamsters, one company that seems to have found a solution is UPS. Dan McMackin, public relations manager at UPS, told NBC News that while the company must still get creative over the holiday season, the company isn’t facing any general shortage of drivers.

UPS was aggressive in its efforts to get a deal done with the Teamsters. Despite shareholder criticisms and as speculated here several months ago, we didn’t see it putting up too much of a fight given what even appeared then to be an economy hell-bent on full employment.

Anyway, it’s good to see the truck drivers turning the table. Not that all employers were bad news, but the industry had a negative reputation and it appears that those days, at least under the current economic umbrella, are history.

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