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Driver Shortage

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.

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

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