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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.

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.

Carrier Spotlight 2018: A.N. Webber

I’ve never met more authentic people than my contacts at A.N. Webber. Their straightforward and reliable service makes them a clear leader in my mind. After working with them for 16 years, I’m pleased to announce that they’re our Carrier of the Year in the 101-300 size segment.

They continuously provide capacity solutions for many of our top customers. From drop trailer, committed, and dedicated trucks, they excel in every area. And their willingness to step up for several customers during hurricane relief efforts is also worth mentioning as an example of their excellence. Read More…

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