Best of Times, Worst of Times

Dickens’ classic line nicely captures the past year in the trucking industry. 2020 marked a year in which the trucking industry was confronted with many unknowns and pressures, along with a perfect storm of supply, demand and changes in consumer behavior. Despite the operational pressures of responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19, the vast majority of carriers reported strong results, and in some cases – record results.

This year saw the continuation of improvements observed last year across a variety of driver-related metrics. The average satisfaction score across the Top 20 was 91.82%, up from last year’s 91.44%, which itself was an improvement from the previous year’s 89.55%. To the casual observer, these basis point improvements may seem small, when you peel back the onion of the survey process, they are significant.

Along with those satisfaction numbers, we’re also seeing a steady improvement in driver retention. We’ve noted before the challenges of accurately calculating what should and shouldn’t be counted as turnover, and this year we continued refining that process. Taking various factors into consideration, we produce a retention score for each fleet, with higher numbers being better. In 2019, the average retention score across the Top 20 was 7.16, last year it was 9.31, and this year it hit 9.41. That’s a 31% improvement in 2 years, so the Top 20 are definitely seeing positive results from their efforts in this area.

Similar improvements were seen in safety scores and compensation. Neither is that surprising in the context of the pandemic – fewer crashes when most of the population is parked at home for months, and more pay for drivers to compensate for the extra risks reinforce the fact that carriers acknowledge that they’re taking on – but it will be interesting to see what happens next year as the world starts returning to normal.

Beyond COVID, one of the themes that emerged in the trucking industry this year was cybersecurity, or the lack thereof. Many companies were forced to go public with disclosures of major attacks in 2020. Surprisingly only fourteen companies specifically mentioned cybersecurity training in their submissions - even though a majority of the highly publicized cyber attacks in 2020 were a result of a ‘user’ misstep. Because of this growing undercurrent of cyber-risk in trucking, we added a scored question on cyber security.