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What’s the best way to recruit a new driver?

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If this is news to you, raise your hand: There are not enough truck drivers in America. Surprised? If you’ve been in the industry for longer than a week, you’ve probably heard about, read about, or even experienced the shortage of drivers.

There is some debate as to whether the industry is really suffering from a shortage of drivers, or a self-made crisis driven by economic-based decisions. It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you fall on though, when it comes to finding drivers. If you need a driver, you need a driver. So how do you get one?

Teletrac Navman, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider of location-based technology and services for those with mobile assets, recently announced the results of its annual Telematics Benchmark Report. Inside the report, more than 2,400 industry professionals, from private and for-hire fleets, to government agencies and others who run fleet operations, present what their companies are doing in a number of areas including driver recruiting. Company owners accounted for 17% of the responses with fleet managers and operations managers comprising another 25%. Executive/vice president/managing directors, dispatchers/dispatch managers and safety managers amounted to another 25%, so this survey’s respondents represented a who’s who of decision makers.

Here are the top ways their organizations recruit employees (and the percentage who are doing this activity)

  • Referrals (60%)

  • Online job boards (52%)

  • Social networking (34%)

  • Corporate website (28%)

  • Print media or trade publications (23%)

  • Recruit former drivers/operators (21%)

  • Job fairs (19%)

  • Offer sign-on bonus (16%)

  • Outside recruiters (13%)

  • Driver/operator schools/training programs (9%)

  • Apprenticeship program (7%)

  • Armed forces partnerships (4%)

  • Trucking shows/tradeshows (4%)

  • Other (4%)

The top four approaches cited – referrals, online job boards, social networking, and corporate website – all represent low-cost approaches to attracting drivers. But, with job boards and social networking, it can be difficult to stand out, and the corporate website approach is only good if you can bring interested parties to your site to start with.

Ironically, the ability to attract drivers begins with the compensation packages you offer, and these do not have to be just high pay.

At a Truckload Carriers Association meeting earlier this year, two panels discussed this topic and how to retain drivers once you get them. The presentations noted that job-changers cited compensation as the top reason for changing jobs, but the reasons that followed had little to do with finances: lack of communication, poor relationship with managers, lack of home time, and the general category of treatment and respect.

As a smaller carrier, you may not be able to pay what the big guys can, but your size can work to your advantage. As the owner, you are in a position to communicate directly with your employees, something that drivers appreciate, and the big guys can’t do. This personal touch can go a long way to making the employee feel part of the family and they know when there is a problem, they are working with the top decision maker in solving the issue.

When looking for employees, be upfront with them, and don’t be afraid to sell them on culture as much as pay. If they join your organization simply because of the pay, you can bet they will leave just as quickly for someone paying more.

In a conversation with FreightWaves earlier this year, Damon Langley, director of solution delivery, analytics and decision support at TMW, noted this. “Recruiting and retaining drivers is not only about compensation. One aspect of increasing driver retention is to recognize the strong correlation between turnover and quality hiring,” he said. “You hire your own terminations.”

Langley said that setting the right expectations are key.

“Think about a coach who was tough on you, but you respected him for it. Engendering that type of relationship with your driver starts with your first few conversations, where you say, ‘I expect this of you, and this is what you can expect of me. And I’m going to hold you accountable, and I want you to hold me accountable,’” he said.

The initial conversations with a potential driver should set the expectations. Langley suggests creating a “driver scorecard” so that everyone is on the same page. This can include things such as: work schedule, home time, if you slip-seat or not, timeliness of paperwork, timeliness of updating arrive/depart times, timeliness of reporting potential and actual detention based on your policies or a customer’s policies (generally or per dispatch), cleanliness of the truck, hygiene, dress code (uniform requirements? Pay?), safety policies (a much larger conversation, but includes doing a walk-around before backing up, following distance, lane changes, hard cornering, hard braking, hard acceleration, etc.), geography serviced (required to go to the Northeast? Canada?), where to fuel (generally or per dispatch), using tire chains in snow/ice, forced dispatch (yes or no), where to get maintenance (generally or per incident), pre-trips/DMVRs, MPG and related driver behaviors (idling, smooth acceleration, using cruise control, over-idle, over-speed, etc.) and many other things.

Hiring a driver and hiring a long-term employee are two different approaches to filling seats. To hire drivers, all you need to do is offer a few cents more than the guy down the street. To hire long-term employees who will represent your business in the best possible way and remain loyal for years, it takes a little more effort, not necessarily more money. And it all starts from your initial interaction and setting expectations.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.