Panelists: Carriers must find new sources for drivers

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The trucking industry must improve its image and recruiting efforts, and set aside the funding to do so, if it wants to lure more drivers into the market, according to panelists at this week’s 2nd annual Randall-Reilly Trucking Fall Symposium in Phoenix.

Kevin Burch, president and partner for Dayton, Ohio-based Jet Express, and Ray Kuntz, president and chief executive officer for Watkins & Shepard Trucking in Helena, Mont., joined Linda Longton, vice president of editorial for Randall-Reilly Publishing, in discussing ways for carriers to find new sources for drivers.

Lack of drivers presents the biggest constraint on carrier growth, Longton said, and constant turnover and the declining for-hire truck population isn’t helping. Recent strategies to combat these trends include pay increases “in the 6 to 7 percent range”; changing pay techniques such as practical mileage; targeted pay incentives for particular regions; paying more frequently; and schedules with more home time, such as Schneider National’s “Home Run” program.

But the driver shortage is being exacerbated by an aging labor pool and regulations such as hazmat, hours of service and safety screenings that are “a good thing from a safety perspective, but it’s not helping the work force,” Longton explained.

Fleets must find new ways to recruit more drivers, said Burch. “We all know you need fresh fruit in the driver room,” he said, but more innovation is required. Burch and Kuntz both are members of a joint task force for the American Trucking Associations and the Truckload Carriers Association to find ways to recruit more drivers.

Addressing recruiting, Burch said fleets should target three demographic groups: military returning from overseas, the mature work force and minorities. Military recruits have a good work ethic, already are drug-screened and are used to time schedules, and this group possibly offers an untapped market of 60,000 drivers, Burch said: ATA and TCA plans to use two websites — military.com and monster.com — to target them. Mature workers — laid-off middle management and retirees — could provide another stable labor pool, he said.

Burch also recommended setting up “recruiting one-stop shops” for people to learn more about the industry, and said trucking also must improve its image. “There’s a lot of opportunities out there, and we need to get that out to the public.”

Kuntz addressed the funding issues related to recruitment. Pay raises don’t really solve anything because carriers simply are stealing one another’s drivers, he said. “We’re creating a windmill effect,” he said. Watkins & Shepard has worked closely with a driving school and bank to recruit new drivers and pay for their training. After graduation, drivers join the carrier while paying off a low-interest loan for tuition. “We have to take these millions of dollars we use on classifieds and use it more effectively,” Kuntz said.

Schools that can’t afford to recruit driver candidates can team with companies, and state industry groups can match those funds to develop localized promotional campaigns, Burch said. “We need to be more proactive, not reactive,” he said.