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Surviving a Truck Driver Shortage (Part 2): Retaining Quality Drivers

There’s never been a guarantee that a carrier can find a replacement for a driver who switches companies. But, now with the truck driver shortage, it’s becoming even more difficult and imperative to hold onto quality drivers.

Welcome to part two of my recruiting and retention series. Last time, I highlighted new recruiting techniques. In this post, I’m going to share some of the best retention strategies I’ve seen contract carriers use. After all, recruiting new truck drivers is only the first step; the second is continuing to employ your quality drivers.

Why do quality truck drivers leave?
In my eight years at C.H. Robinson, I’ve learned that drivers are fluid from one company to the next (and sometimes back to an old company again). Each driver has his or her own reasons for switching companies, but some of the big reasons include low pay, too many miles, and not enough time at home.

More recently, many of the carriers I work with have shared that respect and recognition for drivers is becoming more important. When drivers feel unrecognized for the job they’ve performed, it influences where they want to work.

Sometimes drivers can find what they’re looking for with another carrier. Other times, they may leave the trucking industry all together for a more appealing path. Both construction and manufacturing often lure drivers away when the economy is good.

How to give truck drivers what they need
Keeping drivers happy often requires changes at the operations level of a business. I consulted Billy Cartright, executive vice president and COO of Southern Refrigerated Transport, at Covenant Transport Services to get his take on retention strategies. He provided some tips for retaining truck drivers by giving them what they need.

Optimize your fleet
Taking a strategic approach to your customers, lane structures, and fleet can add predictability for drivers. Being able to tell a driver that they’ll be in Tallahassee, FL, in three days, in Minneapolis, MN, in five days, and back home in seven days goes a long way to improving driver happiness.

Offer other lines of service
If getting drivers home more often is your goal, consider ways to reconfigure your fleet with additional services. See how offering more drop and hook or split seating options affect driver retention.

Trust 3PLs for more than deadheads
Rather than only using the third party logistics providers (3PLs) you work with to fill deadhead loads, you can use them more strategically. Take advantage of a 3PL’s size and relationships to find more consistent loads in the lanes you and your drivers want. This again ties to the idea of greater predictability.

Create recognition programs
There are many ways to reward and recognize drivers; often, they involve competitions across the company. Some of the competitions I’ve heard of include safety, service, and even most miles driven competitions.

When in doubt, ask your truck drivers
This is by no means a comprehensive list of retention strategies. The truth is, only your drivers can tell you what is most important to them. Open conversation on everything from favorite shippers to what bells and whistles to get when ordering new trucks helps drivers feel included and respected.

Ultimately, the bottom line for driver retention is driver happiness. Drivers have to be happy to stay where they are. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out part 1 of this series, which focuses on how you can find new, quality truck drivers.

- Carrier Account Manager

Surviving a Truck Driver Shortage (Part 1): Recruiting New Drivers

The past few years have seen a potential driver shortage problem turn into a real driver shortage problem. Many of the carriers I work with are paying closer attention to recruiting and retention techniques more than ever before.

Today, I’m kicking off the first in a two-part series on recruiting and retention. This post outlines techniques I’ve seen contract carriers use to bring in new truck drivers and in an upcoming post, I’ll share ways to keep quality drivers around.

What’s causing the driver shortage?
One of the biggest contributing factors on everyone’s mind is the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate that recently went into effect. And yes, the ELD mandate has made flexibility in hours of service more difficult. Accordingly, the same number of drivers can’t haul the same amount of freight as pre-ELD mandate. Of course, there are other reasons for the truck driver shortage, including the aging driver population and shared labor pools with construction and manufacturing.

Overcoming the millennial perspective
As I mentioned above, many of today’s truck drivers are retiring. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough millennials signing up to be truck drivers. It seems that millennials often have an ongoing perception that truck driving isn’t the right job for them.

Many people have an image in their head of a stereotypical truck driver. A loner who’s out on the road a lot and doesn’t make it home to spend time with family (or doesn’t have a family at all). They envision a lot of fast food and unhealthy habits. Those are the ideas that need to be broken down if millennials are going to help relieve the driver shortage.

Trying out new recruiting ideas
Like most things, every company has their own recruiting techniques, carriers included. Some of the most successful I’ve seen implemented by the contract carriers I work with include sign on bonuses and promoting on social media. But for many companies, friends, family, and referrals bring in the highest volume of new drivers. Additionally, the carriers I work with are restructuring their lane configurations to include a more regionalized approach to their network. This kind of shift expands a carrier’s ability to get drivers home more frequently. It’s a powerful recruiting technique for many. Even beyond initial recruiting efforts, because driver satisfaction increases, the result can also boost driver retention.

The future of driver recruitment
Beyond today’s incentives to attract new drivers, the future may require even more creative and widespread changes. I recently talked with Billy Cartright, executive vice president and COO of Southern Refrigerated Transport, at Covenant Transport Services about this and he had some interesting thoughts I’m including here.

Change driver pay to salary with paid time off and benefits.
Driver pay has always been a topic of conversation. Knowing how changing the pay structure for drivers would affect the industry is difficult to determine. Making driver pay more stable—not tied to miles travelled—could certainly be incentive for both new and current drivers. The industry would certainly change drastically were this to happen in the future.

Lower the age to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to 18.
Right now, the age to obtain a CDL is 21. But by that time, many young adults have already focused on a specific trade. Lowering the driving age to 18 could open up new recruiting opportunities to recent high school graduates, before they choose other industries.

Recruitment is only the first step
When in the midst of a driver shortage, finding new drivers is only the beginning. We can’t forget the importance of keeping the quality drivers you have.

Look for part two of this series in the coming weeks.

- Carrier Account Manager

Carrier Spotlight: The Culture at Cargo Transporters

I’m happy to share that Cargo Transporters has once again secured the title of our Carrier of the Year in the 301-999 size segment. They deserve double congratulations as the only contract carrier to hold the title for two consecutive years. I’d say the competition for this award is somewhat fierce, and Cargo Transporters 100% deserves to win again because of their ability to work hard and willingness to always put customers first. Read More…

- Capacity Key Account Manager

FMCSA Releases Guidance: Personal Conveyance by Commercial Truck Drivers

On May 31, 2018, FMCSA issued updated guidance on use of personal conveyance by commercial truck drivers. Previously, guidance had restricted the use of personal conveyance to “unladen” vehicles, which many interpreted as bobtail or power only moves. This final guidance makes clear that drivers can use personal conveyance for laden vehicles in certain circumstances.

One of the biggest impacts this guidance will have is to finally provide clear guidance on what to do when a driver runs out of hours on private shipper property due to unexpectedly long loading or unloading delays. Previously there was no clear answer to this as we outlined in this blog from December 2014.

Specific information about the guidance
C.H. Robinson submitted comments specifically asking FMCSA to address this question and they responded as follows:

The following are examples of appropriate uses of a CMV while off-duty for personal conveyance that include, but are not limited to:
Time spent traveling to a nearby, reasonable, safe location to obtain required rest after loading or unloading. The time driving under personal conveyance must allow the driver adequate time to obtain the required rest in accordance with minimum off-duty periods under 49 CFR 395.3(a)(1) (property-carrying vehicles) or 395.5(a) (passenger-carrying vehicles) before returning to on-duty driving, and the resting location must be the first such location reasonably available.

New guidance adds flexibility
All ELDs have the ability to currently log personal conveyance time. This new guidance by FMCSA will allow drivers significantly more flexibility in the use of safe and appropriate personal conveyance than they were previously able to use.

- Director, Government Affairs- C.H. Robinson

5 Ways to Make the Most of High Flatbed Demand

Flatbed Trucking

If you operate flatbed equipment, you likely noticed that demand for flatbed trailers is skyrocketing. Flatbed shipping is typically known for seasonality and variability in demand, but today’s imbalance with supply and demand is overpowering typical market cycles.

What’s causing the demand for flatbed equipment?
Well, it’s a mixture of things. There’s certainly overlap with dry van equipment and some macro trends (i.e., driver shortages, truck utilization, etc.), but the primary drivers are more specific to flatbed equipment:

Outcomes of the ELD mandate aren’t as easily mitigated for flatbed carriers
Flatbed carriers and drivers are feeling a greater impact from the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate for a variety of reasons:
• Seasonal, project based freight limits opportunities for flatbed carriers to build freight networks and optimize drive time.
• 1:1 tractor to trailer ratios eliminates many process improvements dry van fleets are implementing.
• Pickup and delivery locations are distinct, requiring long dwell times for drivers at job sites, ports, mills, and other unique places.
• Securing and protecting cargo is labor intensive, resulting in decreased drive time and yield to the truck.

Many flatbed carriers are now booking equipment days in advance to plan effectively, have drivers home more, and make better use of drive time with ELDs in play.

Ongoing and future legislation changes add to flatbed demand
The current administration has proposed and already passed legislation that will drastically influence flatbed demand now and into the future:
• Tax reform means corporations are making capital expenditures, which tends to result in flatbed demand for plant modernizations, Greenfield projects, machinery upgrades, etc.
• Ongoing tax breaks for renewable wind energy adds to demand for flatbed trailers in the energy sector.
• $1.8 billion infrastructure bill, while not yet passed, could mean many roads and bridges would require flatbed equipment to deliver materials as they are improved.
• The steel/aluminum import tariff may result in more inland steel production, driving higher demand and shifting capacity away from ports.

Economic and industry influencers
Positive economic trends within specific industry sectors also heavily influence the demand for flatbed shipping:
• Improving oil prices combined with operations that are more efficient mean major oil companies are ramping up their U.S. business activities again.
• Agriculture machine sales are increasing due to global population and aging equipment. Many large industrial and agricultural machines require flatbed trailers.
• Manufacturing continues to see positive trends, resulting in additional demand for many commodities hauled via flatbed.
• Recovery efforts from last year’s catastrophic natural disasters are ramping up as insurance settlements are finalized, meaning strong demand for building materials on flatbed trailers.
Going forward into the remainder of 2018, pay close attention to rail and LTL tonnage, the approaching tropical storm season, and low unemployment rates that make recruiting more challenging.

5 ways to maximize high flatbed demand
1. Openly communicate with shippers
With the seasonal and project-based nature of flatbed freight, it can be hard to establish strategic relationships with shippers. You can still open the lines of communication with the shippers you do work with and offer as much flexibility as possible on ship dates and loading hours. This can help set expectations and create better driver experiences. And the best shippers will openly communicate with you, too.

2. Try many ways to recruit new and younger drivers
Like the truckload industry, flatbed drivers are in high demand. To combat this driver shortage, consider how you recruit new drivers.

A combination of traditional methods such as print, direct mail, and radio, along with more modern tools may offer the most success. Actively promoting on social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) is just one new way to reach out to younger drivers—a hot commodity in our business.

3. Strive to retain the drivers you have
The improving economy means the already tight driver labor force will have opportunities for jobs in other fields, such as construction, that do not require them to live on the road. Once you have drivers, actively work to retain them. Even if pay raises are not possible, certain quality of life changes—like being home in the evenings—can make a big difference in driver happiness.

4. Promote specialized equipment, accessories, and training
This tactic is closely related to open communication. If your drivers have tarps, chains, or a more specialized trailer, make sure that shippers—both before and after booking—know exactly what you have to offer. Have your drivers received special training of any kind? That’s also a positive point to share that can work in your favor. These may set you apart from others who cannot offer the same extras.

5. Work with a 3PL
If finding shippers and freight isn’t your strong point, consider working with a third party logistics provider (3PL). You can utilize the large size and relationships of the 3PL’s network to find freight for your equipment in the regions you want most. C.H. Robinson often helps our contract carriers by supporting their sales force. We can help you find the right freight for your equipment—and your fleet. After all, knowing how to be strategic during high demand is also critically important.

The increasing demand for flatbed capabilities isn’t a fluke
The current imbalance for flatbed supply and demand is here to stay for now. We’ve already seen that demand for flatbed equipment in 2018 defies normal cyclical patterns.

This near-term supply and demand imbalance is going to stick around at least through the “typical” peak season. Predicting exactly when the imbalance will subside is challenging to determine due to the natural (and drastic) ebbs and flows of this space.

Get more information on how you can capitalize on the flatbed shipping market.

- General Manager, Flatbed