Fleets increasingly seem to be of two minds when it comes to dealing with the continuing shortage of truck drivers. On the one hand, fleets large and small are offering higher pay and benefits plus more innovative arrangements to increase home time in hopes of recruiting and retaining drivers. On the other, many fleets believe that isn’t a “shortage” of drivers per se – but a lack of the high-quality ones they would most like to employ.

“There is no shortage of drivers. However, there is a shortage of safe, reliable drivers with stable employment histories,” Mitch Bookbinder, manager of retention and recruiting for L.J. Kennedy Trucking, told Fleet Owner. “Trucking companies are focused on attracting and retaining these top-caliber drivers, without exception. Yet while pay rates and benefits have improved markedly in the past two years, it will take more time before these advances in compensation draw considerable numbers of new drivers into the trucking industry.”

Green Bay, WI-based Schneider National offers an example of the different tactics trucking companies are employing to attract and keep good drivers. Major pay raises initiated in 2004 boosted inexperienced driver pay to between $35,500 and $43,500 in their first year, with experienced drivers earning an average of $49,500 to $58,500 per year. And owner-operators leased on to the carrier were getting $105,000 to $115,000 annually. Rob Reich, vp-enterprise recruiting at Schneider, added that newly hired experienced drivers for its bulk/tank-trailer division are also eligible for a $4,000 sign-on bonus.

Then there’s the company’s “Home Run” program, which consists of “pods” of three drivers or driving teams that live near each other and share two tractors. A driver, or team, gets one week at “home” while the other two “run,” with each driver receiving a personal calendar in advance that identifies their weeks at home for one year. Reich says Home Run drivers enjoy 17 weeks at home per year. Currently, more than 250 of Schneider’s 15,500 drivers participate in the Home Run program, with the expectation that the program will grow to 500 by the end of 2005.

“Our drivers and owner-operators are critical to the process of growth and service,” Reich said. “Our compensation package, diverse driving opportunities and innovative programs are designed to maintain driver loyalty.”

Bookbinder told Fleet Owner that Kearny, NJ-based L.J. Kennedy reacted to the growing shortage by raising pay, keeping payroll deductions for family medical benefits at extraordinarily low numbers, making sure drivers are home every weekend, and by having more than 82% of its shipments pre-loaded and pre-tarped.

“Yet the potential pool of driving applicants is narrow and our standards are considerably above industry average,” he said. “This makes recruitment especially challenging. Regardless, we would rather spend more money on recruitment advertising so we can attract more drivers to L.J. Kennedy, instead of compromising our standards to draw below desirable drivers and then spending more money on insurance premiums and legal costs, as a consequence of compromised standards.”

Bookbinder also noted that since top performers tend to stay put, and as average performers are being treated better, their job movement should be decreasing. “This leaves the ‘churners,’ many of whom seem to be perpetually seeking the job of their dreams,” he explained. “If anyone can determine methods to make churners with good safety records settle down, they should be able to make a fortune. Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself and churners just keep churning.”