CARLISLE, Pa. — LTL carrier ABF demonstrated at a hiring event last week how it is speeding up the application process to get drivers in seats as quickly as possible.
“They could walk out of here with a job offer,” Andy Campbell, manager of field recruiting for ABF Freight, said at the hiring day event, held at the company’s big distribution center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, barely a mile from Interstate 81 and within a half-hour of several other key interstates, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 83.
ABF is a subsidiary of ArcBest (NASDAQ: ARCB). The hiring events are an offering that began in 2021.
Campbell is based near the ABF facility in Dayton, Ohio, but was in Carlisle along with other recruiting staff members, several of whom came from the company’s headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
A job offer is contingent upon passing the industry’s ubiquitous drug test, which gets performed onsite, Campbell said. And if an offer is issued, the applicant can walk out with a job that puts him or her on a path to eventually claim a sign-on bonus that ranges from $5,000 to $10,000.
There is also a physical test that Campbell said involves “some lifting but nothing crazy.”
The Carlisle event was the 40th of 2022 and the 55th since the program started last year, Campbell said. After the focus group discussions that led to the creation of the program, the first event was in Carlisle. The recent event then is the program swinging full circle by returning to south central Pennsylvania. Carlisle is big enough that Campbell added he would expect to do two or three a year there.
Campbell described that first Carlisle event as “very successful, but with each one you do, you fine-tune the process.” The next hiring day event is in Denver on Oct. 12-13.
He estimated he has done between 8,000 and 9,000 interviews in his 20 years with ABF and that in many of them, “sometimes, they share a lot of things whether you want to know it or not.”
And as the hiring days piled up across the country, Campbell said he learned that the issues might differ among locations. “Folks are living different types of lifestyles,” he said. “New Jersey is going to be different in Ohio and that’s going to be different than in California.”
The advertising to get people through the door is done through outlets ranging from billboards to social media.
Hiring days are two-day events. The Carlisle one was unique because it was the first one that involved a Friday-Saturday combination. The largest event in the history of the program was in Chicago, where Campbell said they had approximately 320 people come through the door in two days and did 280 interviews.
At the hiring event, several tables with laptop computers were set up to allow applicants to fill out an application, though some already had done so online. For those who had, and a record of their employment could be produced, the length of that document could vary widely; Campbell said one of the applicants in Carlisle had a 38-page employment record, all because of the wide range of employers that somebody like a truck driver might have in an industry with turnover that can reach 100%.
If the preliminary discussions with the recruiters in that first room think there’s room for further discussion, an interview follows that lasts as much as 45 minutes.
In the first two hours of the Carlisle event, FreightWaves counted roughly 15 applicants, some of whom were there when the doors opened at 7 a.m.
Tony was one of the early visitors. Tony, who requested that his last name not be used, told FreightWaves as he was exiting the ABF building that he was gainfully employed in a local manufacturing facility and in fact was a supervisor. Yet he wanted to explore opportunities with ABF, having heard about the hiring day through social media.
Tony said the process “went smooth and went well.” But there was a problem: He didn’t want to work the hours that were available for a job in which he’d be enrolled in the driver development program, where the company trains an employee to get their commercial driver’s license on their way to being a driver. That job carried a sign-on bonus of $5,000. So Tony departed after the interview.
“I needed to agree to be available for a certain shift,” he said, specifying that the shift was a 3 to 11 p.m. position. And he couldn’t do that for reasons he didn’t specify.
(That driver training program, Campbell said, is a function of the fact that the company “can’t afford to wait on somebody else. All our trainers for the most part are ABF employees.”)
He appeared nonplussed that his tire kicking at ABF didn’t result in an employment opportunity; he could just stay in his manufacturing job. And Campbell said that was pretty normal when asked about the nervousness level of the candidates.
“It depends on the situation,” he said. “If they are just exploring and they are pretty well suited in their current job, then they are not going to be as nervous as somebody who doesn’t know how they’re going to pay the bills next week.”
Campbell said the applicants who show up at a hiring day are “a pretty good mix of people who are employed and unemployed.”
Success for ABF would be measured if somebody walks through the door and can be training for their new job within seven to 10 days, Campbell said.
The process can take longer for a position like a driver that must comply with various Department of Transportation rules. When it’s a driver, a discussion needs to be held that includes such subjects as driving history and any possible DUI violations.
But that isn’t the case for a forklift operator, which Campbell described as “a very important job at this facility.”
A walk through the Carlisle distribution center, which is about a mile to hoof it from one end to the other and back, drives home the role of a forklift driver in a successful LTL loading operation. The best analogy would be to look at the game world: Is it more like Tetris or is it more like Jenga?
Tetris was the analogy used by Carlisle service center manager David Kaelin on a walk past the roughly 330 doors at Carlisle. But you can imagine Jenga too, as cargo of all shapes and sizes is placed into mostly ABF trucks — there are also purchased transportation trucks visible at the facility — and needs to be put into trucks in such a way to maximize yield, the revenue per hundredweight figure that is the key benchmark that separates out the successful LTL companies for those that can’t be considered elite. When LTL executives on an earnings call talk about “mix” being positive or negative for their company, it’s easy to see where the work of a forklift operator is definitely a cog in that process as well.
There’s another aspect of hiring at ABF that is not the case at most trucking companies: Most of the applicants would be looking at — even if they don’t know it — a job that is represented by the Teamsters. In its 10-K filing with the SEC for 2021, ArcBest said 82% of its workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Driving jobs out of the Carlisle facility involve going no more than 600 miles per day. Kaelin said if a driver goes that far and needs to get off the road due to hours of service restrictions, they are put up in a hotel.
And on the grounds of the Carlisle facility, there was nary a sleeper berth in sight, except for some purchased transportation. Otherwise, it was a sea of daycabs.
ABF has been in a net hiring mode, not surprising for a company that even with the latest stock market slide has managed to post a two-year gain of about 136%, according to Barchart.
Not everybody is in that position, and Campbell said that’s a benefit. “If you have other carriers doing layoffs, we might have the need for some of their job skills,” he said. “So come see us.”
And several times he uttered a version of a refrain that has become the mantra of probably every hiring manager at almost every company in the U.S. “Everybody is looking for top talent. It is such a competitive market as far as finding employees.”
In an industry with as much turnover as one finds in trucking, Campbell said it is not unusual to have former employees return and start anew with ABF.
There weren’t any results to declare at the end of the visit. It was ongoing when FreightWaves departed, and the results of drug tests means a final conclusion on the number of ultimate hires from the hiring day will have to wait.
But a few days later, Campbell did provide FreightWaves with a statement. “We were pleased with the candidates we had the opportunity to connect with during the event,” he wrote in an email. “We continue to refine our process with the goal of onboarding values aligned, top talent that will help ABF serve our customers with excellence.”