As freight volumes begin to pick up across the trucking spectrum, many carriers are revising how they recruit drivers to address a range of issues, including everything from changing freight patterns to new safety regulations and demographic shifts in the labor pool.

“Recruiting in 2010 and beyond needs to be very different from what occurred in the past, even just last year,” Mike Hinz, vp-recruiting for Schneider National, told FleetOwner.

To begin with, points out Hinz, the driver of today has never been more regulated. He believes that pressure will only intensify once the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 program starts rolling out in November.

Second, freight is now becoming far more regionalized. “It used to be we focused on finding ‘coast-to-coast’ or long haul drivers. Now more manufacturers want to shorten their supply chains, so we’re witnessing a boom in regional freight,” he explained.

As a result, Schneider aims to hire 2,500 drivers for its five regional operations – the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast – by the end of this year. As a result, some 40% of Schneider’s 14,000 drivers are now in regional operations, he said.

“The customer demand for our regional service has exceeded our expectations and created enough freight density to get [these] drivers home weekly,” Hinz noted. “And work-life balance is more important than ever to today’s professional truck driver.”

One would think that this change alone would drive an influx of younger workers into the industry. The average age for truck drivers now hovers around 47. But Hinz says that’s not been the case. “We will always need and see younger drivers, but right now we’re actually seeing older workers who are transiting from other industries such as manufacturing, high tech, even office work, from job losses due to the recession and just the chance to try something new,” he said. “Veteran workers with their career experiences in many cases are better able to master the challenges and conflicts of the job.”

As a result of all those factors, carriers such as Transport America are changing how they recruit drivers.

“We’re trying to get away from centralized recruiting, to send more pre-qualified candidates directly to our terminals to get a flavor for the jobs in their area,” Brett Terchila, director of operations for Transport America, told FleetOwner

While the candidates work history and driving record remain critical, Terchila said other key points now include technological knowhow as well job expectations.

“A big piece of what we’re doing is an ‘expectation exchange,’” he noted. “We want to know what the driver expects of the job and to convey to them our expectations. We set standards on both sides – for them and for us – at the outset.”

Transport America also now measures a matrix of metrics – including safety, on-time delivery, out-of-route mileage, idle time, and fuel economy – that it shares on an ongoing basis with its drivers. “Our goal is to coach drivers to achieve what we need,” Terchila explained. “We put a lot of emphasis on training our fleet leaders in order to help them engage with drivers, to create a more positive give-and-take to change behaviors instead of marching them out the door.”

The new approach to recruiting is also about offering drivers more choices as they progress through their careers, added Schneider’s Hinz. “Our job search engine – www.schneiderjobs.com – is designed so candidates can find available jobs right where they live and that fit their desired lifestyle,” he said.

“Job choice is also going to be a big deal. We find drivers may start out wanting to drive coast-to-coast, to see the country, then as a family comes into the picture, they want to stay home more often,” Hinz added. “That’s why having long-haul, regional, and dedicated contract carriage operations all under one roof are so critical today – it gives drivers more options to match changing lifestyle needs.”