Strategies for Hiring and Keeping the Best Truck Drivers

So to prevent stunting their business or America’s overall industrial growth, CEOs of trucking companies are having to get creative in recruiting and retaining drivers. And whether it’s letting them bring their cat or dog on the route or ensuring that they’ve got the most comfortable seats available, trucking outfits are pulling out all the stops these days.

The shortage they’re addressing is acute and, by most accounts, much worse than the last time the industry was really pinched for drivers, about a decade ago before the Great Recession.

“It’s the worst [shortage] we’ve ever seen.”

“It’s the worst we’ve ever seen,” Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Association, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Trucking companies carry nearly 70% of all U.S. freight, but it’s about 48,000 drivers short these days compared with an estimated 800,000 or more men and women who are employed as drivers in the long-haul truckload sector alone.

There are big reasons for that. Trucker pay generally is in the $40,000s to the $60,000s in the truckload sector, which is the industry’s entry level; private-fleet operators average $73,000. But the hours are long (up to 11 a day and 60 a week), and truckers are away from home a lot and for long stretches. Staying in a seated position for many hours on end can lead to and exacerbate many health problems. And with the economy slowly gaining a bit of steam, many of those who would qualify for trucking jobs also can be attracted by other types of employment.

But trucking giants can’t let any of that stop them from trying to find and secure the best drivers. One way they’ve been doing it is by raising pay—it increased by 19% from 2009 through 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, half again as much as the increase for non-supervisory workers as a whole.

And that’s only for starters, as transportation-industry CEOs and their HR and operations staffs get more and more creative.

Giant Schneider Trucking, based in Green Bay, Wis., is working to make schedules more predictable for over-the-road drivers, in addition to boosting pay by 4% to 10% over the last few years, according to the Journal-Sentinel. Roehl Transportation, of Marshfield, Wis., lets drivers bring along a dog or cat.

Prime Inc. now ensures that new drivers are getting paid quickly to cover orientation and the first days of startup, after an internal survey revealed that most drivers make a decision to leave a new fleet within 72 hours, according to CCJDigital.com.

Canadian fleet operator Bison Transport has reduced the length-of-run provisions in its employment agreement to 5-7 days from the previous 7-10 days, and tries harder to offer drivers a niche that suits their personal needs. Its turnover, which was at 30% previously, fell to 18% by 2013.

Bison also is implementing premium driver’s seats in which operators report significantly less fatigue at the end of each day.

Yet CEOs aren’t just handing existing and prospective drivers everything they want. The savviest leaders also are ensuring that their companies get as much out of the new approaches as they give.

Maverick Express, for example, a 1,500-truck carrier based in Little Rock, Ark., has a more stringent employment screening process compared to the industry as a whole, with its drivers required to pass a hair-follicle drug test, for example, and being tested for sleep apnea, according to CCJDigital.com. The company also keeps its drivers on an individualized custom-training program in which they must master an array of computerized and instructor-led courses on safety, compliance and other topics.

But as part of this demanding approach, Maverick helps drivers with areas of struggle such as note-taking or reading. And fewer drivers have been dropping out this year after initiation of the individualized Driver Action Plan.

“Drilling down to individuals has really helped our turnover percentages in orientation alone,” Curt Valcovik, director of driver training, told CCJDigital. “Good training will keep that bucket from draining.”

And for the sake of Maverick, the trucking industry and the U.S. economy as a whole, more drivers staying in or getting into rigs is a good thing indeed.

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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