Symposium panel: Raising pay won’t solve driver shortage

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Raising driver pay won’t solve the recruitment and retention problems that plague the industry, panelists agreed May 25 at the Randall Trucking Spring Symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“There is a lot more to it than money,” said Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express. Mentoring programs and personal attention help companies retain drivers, Burch said. “People want to know they are important, and not just a number.”

Employers must remember that truckers are people, too, said Paul Williams, president of Wooster Motor Ways, which has a relatively low turnover rate, between 31 and 32 percent.

Wooster gives drivers one day off every quarter to spend with their families, provides a $500 savings bond for their kids, and pays for drivers’ cell phones so they can stay in touch with their loved ones, Williams said. Wooster also holds a four-day orientation to fully explain to new drivers the business of trucking, Williams said.

Teaching drivers basic business practices is important in keeping them in the company and in the industry, said Sherry Bass, head of capacity development for CRST Malone. For example, how fuel surcharges work must be fully explained so that both recruiters and drivers understand them, Bass said.

Marten Transport stresses the importance of exit interviews, to learn what made the driver unsatisfied with the company, said Jill Larson, recruiting director.

“It helps us restructure and offer more dedicated and regional hauls,” Larson said. The interviews also enable the company to judge whether that driver is a potential rehire. “With a 60 percent turnover rate, rehires are important,” she said.

Wooster also conducts exit interviews and follows them up with a phone call to see whether the driver is happy with the new company, Williams said. Rehires are important, he said, but Wooster will rehire a driver only once. “I think a revolving door is a bad business policy,” Williams said.

None of the panelists thought that sign-on bonuses were good ideas, saying they encourage drivers to skip from company to company and don’t help drivers out financially, since the money they lose in the crossover period between jobs is more than the sign-on bonus. “If you change jobs more than once a year, you are broke already anyway,” Bass said.

Such bonuses add to the industry’s bad image, Williams said. “Now we’re paying to steal each others’ drivers?”

Instead of money for signing on, all panelists supported the use of referral bonuses. Job fairs are good places to find drivers, Williams said. “We spent $2,500 on one and got 80 applicants.”

If drivers did not have to be 23 years old, more people would think about becoming drivers, Burch said. “What other profession is there that you have to wait until you are 23 years old to get into? Why do we wait until they get old and get bad habits?”

Introducing more minorities and women to trucking could help solve the recruitment problem, but only in certain areas of the country, Burch said. “In Florida, Arizona and New Mexico there is a good Hispanic population, and they can be recruited,” he said. “But in Dayton, Ohio, chances are not so good.”

More women do not get into trucking because their comments go unheard by people in the industry, Bass said. “Manufacturers sometimes ignore what women want in trucks,” she said, adding that she couldn’t even reach the pedals when she was learning to haul in the late 1980s.

The Randall Trucking Spring Symposium is sponsored by Commercial Carrier Journal magazine and Randall Publishing, parent company of eTrucker.com, CCJ, Overdrive and Truckers News.