The latest “Transportation Spotlight” report from HireRight, drawn from its annual employment-screening benchmarking survey, indicates that motor carriers expect to continue hiring more drivers. More than half of these projecting an employment uptick expect to hire company drivers while a decent percentage plan to use more contractors.

What’s more, roughly the first half of the 30-pg. report points up key trends that can help fleets improve their approaches to recruiting and retaining drivers.

HireRight is a provider of on-demand employment background screening, drug and health screening, and I-9 employment eligibility solutions for automating, managing and controlling screening as well as related programs.

The full benchmarking survey, which HireRight conducted in Q3 of 2013, was sent to 3,038 executives at 2,200 organizations. Of the total survey respondents, 21% indicated their primary industry was transportation and their responses informed the Transportation Spotlight report.

The majority of the transportation respondents (92%) indicated trucking as their primary mode of business. Five percent were from bus organizations and the remaining respondents were from airline, maritime and rail classifications.

Almost three-quarters (71%) of the responses were from companies with fewer than 500 employees. Forty-eight percent of respondents worked primarily in director and middle management roles, 37% had administrator, recruiter or specialist titles, and 7% were executives or owners.

HireRight said that, consistent with last year’s findings, “most respondents (79%) reported they expect an increase in the size of their total workforce in 2014. Almost a quarter (22%) projected an increase of 6% or more, while only 3% indicated an expected decline.”

Respondents indicated they plan to hire both employees and non-employees (contractors) to further grow their workforces.

Over 50% of the respondents projecting hiring growth (53%) plan to hire “actual” employees while 15% said all or most of the growth will be filled by “contingent, temporary or contract workers.” HireRight noted that is down eight percentage points from the year before.

The firm said a new question was added this year to see what impact the current Hours-of-Service (HOS) rule was projected to have on driver staffing levels. While 58% expected to make no changes, 19% hired or planned to hire full-time drivers and 7% hired or planned to hire contracted drivers.

As for retaining drivers, these are the top reasons executive have found for drivers leaving, per percentage indicated by survey respondents:

  • To make more money (51%)
  • To spend more time at home (41%)
  • To attain better benefits (27%)
  • To retire (22%)
  • To work outside industry (20%)
  • Other (13%)
  • Not sure (12%)

“Discovering why drivers are leaving can help employers find effective remedies to combat turnover,” HireRight observed. “However, a surprising number of organizations do not conduct exit interviews. Unfortunately, without these interviews, employers can only make assumptions about turnover that may be inaccurate. It is critical for employers to understand the driver’s experience.”

Per the firm, a key tactic to consider with former drivers is “to offer those who performed well an invitation to come back. Many drivers may be willing to return at some point, but without an actual verbal or written invitation from the organization, they wouldn’t consider it a viable option.”

HireRight said that given an economic environment in which motor carriers are running on very tight operating margins, “it is no surprise that the majority of respondents were taking proactive steps to retain drivers.”

The top three methods being deployed are to: increase pay (39%), upgrade equipment (38%) and offer incentives (36%).

“Many carriers are offering bonus plans based on productivity or performance such as: on-time performance, preventable accidents, utilization, hazmat endorsements, roadside inspection results, log violations, traffic violations, equipment violations, idle time and MPG,” the company pointed out.

Other steps being taken to boost retention, per percentage of survey respondents, include:

  • Flexible work arrangements (18%). “These vary in scope by company and region of the country. For instance, truck drivers can often choose what type of hauls they would like to drive and can decide if they prefer local, long distance or cross-region runs. Some carriers are even allowing spouses, children and pets to join drivers on road trips.”
  • Give drivers opportunity to become owner-operators (16%). “Carriers can establish a financing program that converts company drivers to owner-operators and set a goal defining how many drivers to convert each year. Encouraging drivers to be independent and providing them with a company-endorsed avenue to generate greater income is a great way to build solid relationships.”
  • Hire a driver liaison (12%). “A fairly inexpensive but effective tactic, these employees serve as mentors and problem-solvers for drivers to ensure their success and happiness at the company.”

HireRight added that  “there are no ‘magic bullets’ to solve attrition, however, innovation and fresh thinking are important in curbing the industry outflow of drivers.”

The top two methods reported for recruiting drivers were referrals (74%) and online job boards (64%). Both of these methods were consistent with responses from other industries, but transportation respondents were more likely to use print media (57%) than respondents from other industries (40%).

Transportation respondents were far less likely to use social media (25%) in their recruitment efforts than respondents in other industries (41%).

That’s despite how “social networking offers a low-cost means to promote an organization’s open positions,” noted HireRight. “Drivers are actively using smartphones and Internet-enabled devices to stay connected while on the road. Any employer can set up a Twitter or Facebook account with a few simple clicks of a button, but to be an effective recruitment tool, social media requires a steady stream of content relevant to your audience.

“Organizations should be willing to allocate the time and people needed to ensure that their social media presence is healthy and provides valuable information to their online communities,” the firm continued. “An employer’s social media presence can be an influential factor in choosing whether to work for that company.”

Other driver-recruitment methods being used, per percentage of survey respondents, include:

  • Offering a hiring bonus (36%). “This approach is becoming much more widespread than in recent years, and in some cases, is even being offered to recent truck driving school graduates.
  • Actively recruit at driver schools (20%)
  • Customized jobs based on applicants’ preferred location/lifestyle (16%)

“In addition,” pointed out HireRight, “we’ve seen employers recruiting workers through these types of untapped labor pools: dislocated workers, transitioning military personnel, veterans and individuals with disabilities, such as those who qualify for FMCSA’s vision exemption and diabetes exemption programs."