Recruiting Younger Drivers to an Aging Workforce
It’s a familiar story: the increasing driver shortage in the trucking industry is capping capacity and slowing potential growth. In a December 2014 Commercial Carrier Journal’s (CCJ) survey of 255 owners, executives and senior managers, the results were startling clear: 57.3% of for-hire carrier respondents believed that driver shortages would be their biggest concern in 2015, as it has largely been since 2011.
How exactly carriers can find, train, and retain drivers remains a significant business challenge that impacts not only the trucking industry, but shipping and manufacturing as well. Most shippers rely on truckers to deliver their products, but without enough capacity to deliver products on demand, the driver crises resonates throughout the supply chain. Ultimately, there may be empty shelves in the grocery store because the industry cannot keep up with demand.
As 45% of CCJ survey respondents have, or expect to, grow their fleet size in 2015, concern over driver availability is increasing. For carriers with more than 100 power units, concern was even higher, with 76.3% ranking driver scarcity as their top concern. Currently, there is a shortage of roughly 35,000- 40,000 drivers, and an estimated 240,000 drivers will need to be added by 2023. The average driver age rests around 50, and the industry predicts the driver shortage will only worsen as more and more of their workforce retires, unless of course carriers can find a way to attract young talent. While worry over driver scarcity is nothing new, the need to alleviate the problem is becoming more pressing, and carriers are looking into new ways to solve old problems.
In Search of New Drivers
As trucking companies scramble to hire and retain qualified drivers, the power seat has shifted to the driver. Carriers are challenged with not only improving pay, but making working conditions more appealing to a younger workforce. According to the CCJ survey, those with up to 100 power units ranked healthcare expenses as the highest expected cost increases in 2015, while those with more than 100 power units ranked driver pay far and above other cost increases. Both of these leading concerns reflect an effort to attract more drivers to the industry.
A trucker’s job is extremely physically demanding, and the average life expectancy of a trucker is less than that of the general public. As the workforce continues to age, regulatory agencies will continue to scrutinize the health of drivers, and carriers will be faced with providing better medical care. Raising pay, improving benefit packages and adding sign-on bonuses are also straightforward ways to attract new entrants, but recruiting and retaining drivers may take more than that.
Recruiting and Retaining
According to a 2015 HireRight Transportation study, most carriers recruit via referrals (83%), with online job-boards (62%) and print media (57%) being the other most commonly used recruitment methods. Sign-on bonuses (39%) and recruitment programs (25%) are becoming recruiting techniques as well. Sign-on bonuses not only provide immediate incentives, they can also include a payout after a designated period of time or after a performance milestone has been reached. Carriers that recruit from truck driving schools will sometimes hire drivers before the new drivers graduate, providing them job security and sometimes, even paying for their tuition. This tactic can be particularly helpful for recruiting young drivers. Often insurance companies mandate that drivers be at least 21-23 years of age, but by the time most people reach that age, they have already invested themselves in a different profession. Assuring potential drivers that they will have a job in an uncertain economy could prove convincing. Efforts don’t stop there.
Companies are attempting to expand the driver pool by appealing to women, minorities, veterans and immigrants. Some carriers are incorporating ergonomic features to specifically appeal to women while others use targeted marketing campaigns to reach out to minorities. Trucking has long been associated with older white males, but carriers are attempting to rebrand the job as a viable option for a more diverse crowd.
According to HireRight, the top four monetary-based retention approaches are:
- Increasing pay (52%)
- Upgrading equipment (47%)
- Performance-based bonuses (45%)
- Recognition and reward programs (44%)
For large carriers, worker appreciation events are becoming more popular, while small carriers are opting for more flexible work arrangements. Many drivers report that spending more time at home is a priority of theirs, and to meet this demand, more carriers are giving drivers a standard route with set hours, and more time at home. Load-swapping is also an increasing possibility, in which trucking companies relocate distribution centers or add more trailer yards. This would allow drivers to drive a shorter distance, drop off a load, pick up a new load and return home. As detailed in an earlier blog about new technology, new on demand mobile apps may be changing the way many small carriers do business, making trucking more flexible and appealing to younger drivers.
Is Pay Enough?
Higher pay is believed to be a strong incentive, but many in the industry think higher pay is not enough. Drivers typically get paid according to the the miles they drive, but federal hour limitations and tough routes could deter drivers from taking available miles. The average driver earns about $50,000 a year, and most companies offer benefits, including health insurance and 401(k) savings plans. Even though drivers may have the ability to make up to $70,000 in a company, many opt for less money and a looser time schedule to focus on other things in their lives.
Tommy Hodges, executive board member and former chairman of the American Trucking Association, suggests that the problem is not just about pay; it’s about image. He claims that to attract dedicated and qualified workers, society and carriers needs to hold drivers in higher esteem and recognize the true importance of their jobs in modern society. Carriers may not only need to recruit further and wider, but also need to rebrand the job itself so that driving will be a desirable job for future workers.