Heightened concerns regarding the growing shortage of truck drivers is spurring carriers to investigate a series of new tactics to bolster their recruiting and retention efforts – everything from boosting social media usage and deploying predictive analytics technology to opening their own driver training schools.

“The market for drivers is tight and as the economy continues to improve, the situation will only get tougher. Competition is intense [and] drivers are at a premium and can easily move from one carrier to another to switch jobs,” Kent Ferguson, director-Transportation Solutions for global employment screening provider HireRight, told Fleet Owner.

“The shortage really stems from a confluence of factors that include an aging workforce and regulations that limit driver hours, as well as new demands resulting from the improving economy,” he added. “As the economy grows overall, there’s an increased demand for freight from a number of expanding markets, while at the same time, as other industries rebound and increase hiring, there are new employment opportunities that attract drivers away, such as construction jobs.”

Ferguson noted that it can be especially hard to hire younger entry-level drivers because inexperienced drivers are forced to take jobs with national trucking firms that require drivers to be on the road for weeks at a time.

“This is because local trucking firms often require two years of experience to keep insurance premiums down,” he said. “Thus many younger drivers are drawn to construction and other jobs that pay more, and allow more time at home. Plus, people can’t drive a commercial truck until age 21, and most people have already started their careers by that time.”

As a result, many carriers are starting to test and deploy new screening tools both to help them better identify potential recruits on the front and help keep them in the driver’s seat.

“As a fleet manager, it’s crucial to understand that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to recruiting and retaining drivers,” explained Vikas Jain, vice president and general manager for FleetRisk Advisors.

“Today, more advanced fleets in the industry are turning to a more holistic management philosophy that is focused on the drivers—keeping them happy, safe, productive and employed—which empowers companies to improve driver retention, instead of spending millions of dollars trying to recruit new ones,” he said.

Jain noted that within the past 10 years, fleets have started implementing technology solutions—such as predictive analytics technology—to help them manage the behavior of their drivers and identify the different elements that cause drivers to leave their jobs, have an accident or file a worker’s compensation claim.

“One of the greatest benefits technology brings forth to its customers is allowing the fleet managers to have quality conversation with their drivers regularly,” he pointed out. “The ability to communicate with the right drivers, on the right subject, at the right time, ensures that problems are addressed in a timely manner. Having real conversations with someone a driver trusts then feathers into driver retention.”

Jain feels that predictive analytics technology is and will continue to challenge traditional personnel management practices by shining a light on the psychology behind the drivers.

“As fleets continue to look beyond traditional methods to better manage their drivers and overall company operations, they will be able to capitalize on technology to help retain top talent, reduce accident occurrences, and build better, lasting relationships with drivers,” he noted.

HireRight’s Ferguson noted that while a survey conducted by his firm found that many motor carriers continue to attract new talent via traditional methods, including referrals (74%), online job boards (64%), print media (57%), and attending job fairs (37%), they’ve added the use of social media to this mix, with 25% of respondents reporting they use social networking for recruiting.

“New technologies are improving recruiting efforts as more motor carriers are shortening their time-to-hire and improving their candidate experience by using solutions that integrate applicant tracking systems and employment screening,” he added.

“Mobile technologies for both talent management and employment screening are also greatly reducing time and costs, and making the process much easier and more convenient for driver candidates,” Ferguson pointed out. “In addition, many companies offer attractive referral bonuses to incentivize workers to refer friends and family, and 33% also use signing bonuses. Interestingly, 15% are trying to customize jobs based on a person’s preference, such as by regional driving locations, five day work week, etc.”

From a retention standpoint, he noted that HireRight’s survey determined that the top three methods motor carriers are employing to retain drivers are: increasing pay at 39%; upgrading equipment at 38% and offering various incentive programs at 36%.

“Some innovative new tactics for retention that the survey respondents reported include: providing flexible work arrangements so that employees can spend more time at home, and offering career advancement planning, which is especially crucial for entry-level drivers,” Ferguson said. “In addition, motor carriers are developing programs to further cultivate personal connections with drivers to help keep them happy with 12% saying they’ve appointed ‘driver liaisons’ who serve as mentors/sounding boards for drivers to help improve communication and learn if drivers are experiencing any problems and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns.”

However, Jeff Stoicheff, senior vice president of human resources at Penske Logistics, stressed that there are “different factors” at play which make it more difficult to recruit drivers today than 10 years ago:

  • The uneven economy drives up concerns of job security and makes drivers less interested in making a move to another employer.
  • Ten years ago, there were less avenues of recruitment, which made it easier for employers to reach drivers with their advertising and for drivers to gain visibility to the available openings in their marketplace. Today, there are literally hundreds of websites and social media outlets, adding complexity, and obscures visibility. “There’s always the option of blitzing every possible media outlet but that approach is not effective over the long term,” he said.
  • Finally, there is no question that increased regulatory policy and pressures are making truck driver jobs less attractive.

“Recruiting evolved over the past decade, due to the sheer number of websites, forums and social media channels that employers can reach drivers,” Stoicheff noted. “One of the areas where I think it’s moved in a positive direction is the advent of mobile recruiting applications. Previously, one of the challenges all driver recruiters experience was trying to reach drivers during normal working hours.  Mobile recruiting apps allow drivers to submit employment applications quickly and easily while on a lunch or rest break.”

Yet from a retention perspective, he believes “the game” of finding and keeping drivers really hasn’t changed all that much.

“It’s about respect; good pay and benefits; safe, reliable equipment; and home time,” Stoicheff said, adding that there are five factors that have to be in place for a carrier to attract and retain drivers:

  • Pay and benefits are very important, particularly when the driving and unloading ratio gets closer to 50/50;
  • Carriers need to have excellent dispatchers and managers interacting with their drivers;
  • Well maintained and reliable equipment has to be a given. “Even before a driver hits the road, spec’ing the right equipment is crucial for effective team operations,” he stressed;
  • Consistent home time is incredibly important; 
  • Running a safe and legal operation has to be the carrier’s number one operating priority.

Getting drivers the proper training to safely operate on the road is another particular challenge, which is leading some carriers to revisit a tactic many abandoned two decades ago: opening and operating their own driving schools.

Indiana-based Celadon Group is following this path, opening its own school back via its Quality Drivers program within its Quality Companies subsidiary in 2012, followed by a $7 million training center back in early February.

“We have tried in the past to work out a partnership with a third party driver school, but the results we experienced were disappointing,” Scott Vogel, manager of Quality Drivers, told Fleet Owner. “We found both the quantity and quality of driver applicants/graduates to be less than acceptable to what we require of our drivers.”

He explained that operating its own driver training center ensures that the drivers hired receive the training necessary to be effective drivers for Celadon.

“Another advantage of having our own program is that it builds a positive relationship with the drivers starting Day One of their driving career,” he said. “And the new driver training center offers a basketball court, workout rooms and a racquetball court that can be used by both the driver trainees and other employees of Celadon as part of our overall 'wellness initiative.'”

Danny Williams, vice president of Quality Companies, added that the company is actively recruiting drivers for its school from any number of trades and occupations, but is finding that the average age of its driving school recruits is 38; only 10 years younger than the age of the “experienced” drivers hired on.

“What has been a real draw for our school is the fact that the school is free; we will pay for their transportation to our school, in addition to all housing and meals being provided,” Williams noted. “And drivers can get their CDL is as little as four weeks and a guaranteed job with Celadon upon graduation. The only requirement for the driver is that they fulfill a contract to log 120,000 miles driving for Celadon after completing the training.”