As the market steadily softens and rates approach pre-pandemic levels, things are beginning to return to normal in the recruiting and retention world.
Driver activity is trending upward, meaning there are more drivers applying to jobs. At the same time, turnover is also starting to climb. Both of these trends have been happening gradually, over a period of months, with plenty of peaks and valleys.
“The data does show that we’re right-sizing in some ways,” Tenstreet Transportation Advisor Marilyn Surber said. “We’re returning to more pre-pandemic activity levels in both the driver application pool and in turnover. It feels really different than it felt last year because last year was chaotic for everybody. It’s really just returning to what we are used to in trucking.”
This shift can make it tempting for carriers to take the pedal off their recruiting efforts after an intense couple of years. This is especially true for companies hoping to cut costs ahead of any potential market downturns. Surber warns, however, that now is not the time to make serious changes or even exit the recruiting game altogether.
“When it comes to recruiting, when you turn off your advertising or change what you are doing, it takes a long time to build it back up. The data is telling us not to do that right now,” Surber said. “We are in an uncertain market, and we don’t know what is going to happen. It is too soon to be making drastic changes to your recruiting practices because things really are changing on a week-to-week basis right now.”
That doesn’t mean there is nothing carriers can do to improve their strategies and prepare for a looser market environment. After weathering a strained labor market, companies can take advantage of having more options by getting more specific about the kind of employees they want to hire.
“It is a good time for people to take a look at their ads and make sure they are highlighting what their company does differently,” Surber said. “Even with more drivers in the market, really good drivers are going to have a lot of options. Figure out what a good driver means to you and advertise to attract those drivers.”
In addition to targeting their ideal drivers, carriers with finishing programs, or “train-the-trainer” programs, should focus on recruiting top-notch trainers. Due to the cyclical nature of the industry, carriers know that even if there is a dip in driver hiring, it is only a matter of time before the floodgates open again. Carriers should focus on preparing qualified trainers to welcome the new drivers that they know they will eventually need.
While recruiting efforts may slow down somewhat during this period, it is an ideal time to focus on retention. Turnover is ticking up, and replacing drivers is a costly and time-consuming process, no matter how many options a carrier may have.
Driver turnover tends to be highest in the first three to six months of employment. During that time, a carrier should be continuously pitching its company to new hires.
“Being proactive about retention starts with recruiting. It starts with onboarding,” Surber said. “A carrier should have measures in place to really wrap their arms around a driver in that first 90 days. This includes prioritizing communication. Sending out surveys can help with that. It’s more important than ever to make sure that you’re communicating early and often with the drivers that you’re hiring.”
While turnover is highest in the early days, it is important to continue retention efforts and effective communication with long-term drivers as well. These drivers know their value, and they will be more likely to turn down offers from competitors if they feel heard at their current company.
For drivers, a loosening market can stoke panic. It is normal to experience discomfort when it feels like the competition for high-quality jobs is increasing, but Surber made it clear that drivers have nothing to worry about.
“Drivers are still in strong demand. There is definitely a job for you, so you don’t have to worry about that,” Surber said. “You can make sure that you’re as well-positioned as you can be to find your next job, meaning you seek out training opportunities, all your information is up to date, and you do your best each day.”