As fleets try to find new ways of addressing the fallout from the employment squeeze, they are increasingly turning to today’s business-savvy independent truckers. As owner-operators continue to recover from the sharp blow dealt to them in the great recession, fleets are going all out to recruit and retain them.
The job of today’s owner-operator is as lucrative as it’s ever been. Truck drivers are in high demand and the pool of available talent is small. Even so, it’s growing. Some numbers show contract trucking has grown by as much as 15% in the last two years.
The rebound in contract trucking is directly related to the pay increases that companies are offering. Long overdue rate increases are luring truck drivers back into the financially welcoming arms of fleets across the country.
The Shift to Owner-Operators
One large, Missouri-based carrier recently overhauled its owner-operator program and brought on an additional 320 independent contractors. The cost associated with buying new equipment also drives fleets to seek out the services of people who own their own truck.
Economic fluctuations show that diversified assets provide a safer return. When there’s plant adjustments or slowdowns, carriers don’t want to suddenly have 100 trucks sitting idle. A pool of owner-operators to draw from helps mitigate that risk.
Indeed, large motor carriers are beginning to realize that the owner-operator of today holds a technological edge. As the economy has grown, new companies are providing business and financial services to independent truck drivers. These services streamline operational efficiency and allow owner-operators to take on more work.
Today’s independent truck drivers are able to select loads with more precision and keep track of expenses in a much quicker and far more accurate manner than they could even a decade ago. They’re also less focused on raw horsepower and bells and whistles than they are on high fuel efficiency and meeting the bottom line.
Not every fleet has a place for owner-operators, however. In some cases companies are more focused on a consistent image of the fleet and efficiency of operations. Some fleets have systems that aren’t able to accommodate independent truck drivers picking which loads they want.
Even as owner-operators make their comeback, the appetite for them is greater than they can satisfy. These days, with the high price of trucks and a tighter credit environment, it’s harder than ever for someone to simply break into the business.
Lease Owner-Operator Programs
Independent truck drivers are hard to come by and everyone is competing for them. As a result, many fleets are beginning to once again look into growing their own. In this arrangement the company goes through a lease-purchasing program to get a potential operator into a truck.
There has been reluctance to embrace this method, however. In the early 2000s a proliferation of notoriously bad fleet lease-purchase programs left a bad taste in the mouth of today’s independent contractors.
In some of these programs income streams were promised that couldn’t be realized. Lease owner-operators would then be unable to make their payments. The company could then reclaim the truck and lease it back out to another truck driver, marked up even, in some cases. The failure of these programs became glaringly obvious when the recession hit and commerce nearly ground to a halt.
As leased owner-operator programs make a return, fleets are embracing the need to be able to demonstrate that partnering with them offers a sure path to success. As a safeguard against potential failures or in-house missteps that lead to lawsuits, fleets are also turning to third-party companies in an effort to handle lease agreements and ensure compliance.
The increasing regulatory environment is also putting a spotlight on “employee misclassification,” which is when a truck driver is an independent contractor, but is being treated like an employee. Fleets increasingly recognize that these are truly small business owners. Many are even putting together independent contracting teams to help navigate federal and state laws.
The necessity to ensure competitive programs are bringing in new owner-operators has never been greater. Although it may be a tough environment for those wanting to become an independent truck driver, the need necessitates success to those who try.