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Employment report suggests hiring conditions are getting better

11/19/2021

It's slow, but employers are making gains on the driver shortage.

At some point, there will be more truck drivers and/or transportation workers than job openings available. That's the nature of the economy — it ebbs and flows with supply and demand. But as a recent government report appears to show, hiring conditions do seem to be improving, albeit modestly.

In October, the most recent month in which data is available, job openings in the truck transportation industry reached a seasonally adjusted total of 1.5 million, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This marks the fifth month in a row in which jobs in the sector rose from the previous month, Freight Waves reported.

Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research for freight broker Convoy, noted in his blog that among freight trucking in particular, a seasonally adjusted total of 7,900 jobs were added to the economy in October. This made it the second-biggest month in 2021 in terms of new jobs, falling a few hundred shy of August's figure (8,700).

"Accounting for growth in the owner-operator segment — which is not included in the headline BLS numbers — industry employment is now slightly above where it stood on the eve of the pandemic," Terrazas wrote. "Among available drivers, capacity has clearly shifted toward the owner-operator segment."

Hiring constraints are easing
While the driver shortage is still apparent, it does appear that the trucking industry has made some fairly consistent inroads toward filling empty truck cabin seats. As Freight Waves pointed out from the BLS report and those previously released, there are roughly 9,100 fewer jobs in the truck transportation sector today than two years ago at this time. This comes after the gap narrowed to 15,600 in September, 24,500 the month before that and 38,300 in July. Prior to that, in June, the grand total was 44,300.

Terrazas says this data suggests hiring conditions are improving for employers, even though they may not yet be ideal.

"Beyond headline employment, other metrics suggest trucking hiring constraints are past the fever pitch pace of this past summer," Terrazas wrote. "While many trucking firms continue to report hiring challenges, average weekly wage growth for trucking industry workers has slowed from nearly 7%  per year in June to under 4% per year in August."

Rate of pay growth slipping
As has been widely reported, employers are paying applicants more as an incentive to further persuade others to inquire about open positions. But as the BLS data report showed, employers are pumping the brakes on how much they're willing to spend on labor. For instance, hourly wages in the truck transportation sectors rose to $25.63, a two-cent increase from August. This follows a 34 cent uptick between June ($25.28) and July ($25.62).

The American Trucking Associations is forecasting a truck driver shortage of approximately 1 million within the next decade. If the hiring constraints that Terravas mentioned continue to ease, that long-term forecast may prove to be a worst-case scenario.

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