Combat Trucker Shortage With Out-Of-The-Box Retention Strategies

Hint: Drivers Respond to Benefits That Demonstrate Loyalty, Respect

Truck Driver

Transportation companies, which have been dealing with a trucker shortage for the past few years, better get used to it. Driver positions are going unfilled and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

That means transport companies have to focus now more than ever on driver recruitment and retention, says driver trainer and company consultant James Beaudoin. Beaudoin deep-dives into the issue and offers hints for attracting and keeping the best talent in his AudioSolutionz conference “Evaluating Drivers.” That process, he says, starts with job advertising and proceeds through the vetting and training processes.

Driver Shortage: 90,000 Needed Per Year to Meet Freight Demands

Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire about 898,000 new drivers, reported Bob Costello, the chief economist and senior vice president of the American Trucking Associations, in a report titled, “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis: 2017.” Turnover within the industry, meanwhile, has remained high, surpassing 95 percent for full-truckload drivers in 2012 and staying above 80 percent through 2016. Shortage and turnover are combining to create a serious headache for transport companies.

Why the shortage? There are several factors, the report said:

  • Age: The median age of over-the-road truckers is 49, and for private fleet drivers it is 52.
  • Demographics and gender: Females make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce but just 6 percent of all truck drivers.
  • Lifestyle: New drivers are on the road and away from home for extended periods – this lifestyle does not fit with a lot of common desires, especially for younger workers.
  • Better jobs available: Years ago the trucking industry was one of the few industries looking for workers–now it’s just one of many hunting for bodies in a low-unemployment environment.
  • Regulations: Reductions in productivity due to hours-of-service rules exacerbate the shortage.

Another underlying reason, those in the industry say: The image of trucking has been tarnished.

“Being a truck driver was something that (once) carried a certain level of honor with it,” Derek Leathers, CEO of Omaha-based trucking company Werner Enterprises, told National Public Radio. Drivers “were kind of the ‘knights of the road,’ and we lost that somewhere along the way, and I think often trucks are portrayed as sort of this negative reality on the road.”

Hiring Right—What’s the Trick?

Of course, getting trucks on the road requires more than just having bodies in seats. After all, there are safety requirements to meet and a company reputation to uphold.

CDL Life reports, trucking companies will pass over applicants with scary social media profiles, run-ins with the law, sketchy employment history, and legal problems.

The hiring and training process for truckers is not much different than the process for any job, suggests hiring consultants The Balance: have an experienced team member (i.e., a current driver) sit in on the interview; administer a practical skills test; after hiring, conduct unannounced on-the-job evaluations; and hold a 90-day review.

But to get beyond these basics—and attract more applicants in the first place— transport companies need to think outside the box.

Driver Perks: Vacation Time and Better Cabs

The secret weapon to attracting drivers and keeping them behind the wheel lies in benefits, risk advisor HNI reported. Trucking, more than many other professions, is a lifestyle, and benefits need to mesh with the culture.

“When a motor carrier shows that they care about the whole person—not just the truck driver who gets cargo from here to there—that makes a driver feel like he’s family,” according to an HNI article titled, “Benefits for Truck Drivers: The Secret Weapon for Retention.” “Loyalty is an above-and-beyond emotion, and exceptional benefits can help a trucking firm earn that loyalty from its drivers.”

So what to offer? Some of the better benefits for truckers range from higher pay to in-cab luxuries, noted a 2016 FleetOwner article. For example, Gemini Motor Transport offered “a combination safety and longevity bonus that could be worth up to half a driver’s annual pay.”

Other popular benefits include larger sleeper cabs; more vacation time; and enhanced communication methods, such as online forums and texting, that demonstrate a company cares what its drivers have to say, FleetOwner reported.

Beaudoin agrees that finding the right combination of perks is key for companies who want to keep trucks on the road. The bottom line, he says, is knowing your truckers and what motivates them.

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Jeff Schmerker
About Jeff Schmerker
Jeff has extensive professional experience writing on a variety of topics, from pharmaceutical research to environmental history. He has published more than a half-dozen books, and he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and son.