Driver Deficit: Military veterans in demand, but there’s not enough to go around

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Updated May 31, 2018
Stevens Transport driver and retired 28-year U.S. Army veteran Gregg Softy won the 2017 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence award, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The effort seeks to inspire trucking companies to hire more veterans, National Guard members and reservists.Stevens Transport driver and retired 28-year U.S. Army veteran Gregg Softy won the 2017 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence award, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The effort seeks to inspire trucking companies to hire more veterans, National Guard members and reservists.

Nearly 250,000 service members leave the military every year. That’s a potential labor pool five times larger than the estimated number of vacancies in the for-hire trucking industry.

Add to that veterans’ reputation for a strong work ethic and adaptability, and it’s easy to see why they have long been a prime target for carriers looking for a source of dependable drivers.

Among the first to recognize veterans’ potential was Werner Enterprises, which over the last dozen years has hired more than 25,000 military veterans and spouses, groups that now make up 20 percent of the company’s labor force, although not all of them are drivers. Werner has pledged to hire 2,000 more veterans and 250 more spouses this year.

Werner offers returning military the opportunity for “a good living for their families and a career path,” says Jim Morbach, Werner’s associate vice president of student and government recruiting. The company recently was named CCJ’s 2018 Innovator of the Year for its veteran recruitment efforts.

Download the 2017 What Drivers Want Report

Drivers with military experience are also among the most sought-after applicants by nearby Lincoln, Neb.-based Crete Carrier (CCJ Top 250, No. 22). “[With drivers with military experience] you get somebody that is responsible, that’s used to making decisions and taking direction and more reliable,” says Issac Phillips, Crete’s driver development and owner-operator program manager.

Isaac Phillips

“[With drivers with military experience] you get somebody that is responsible, that’s used to making decisions and taking direction and more reliable,”

—Isaac Phillips, driver development and owner-operator program manager, Crete Carrier

About 10 percent of the drivers C.R. England (CCJ Top 250, No. 20) brings on every year are veterans. Veterans “are some of the more experienced drivers and have an understanding of driver safety,” says Wayne Cederholm, vice president of recruiting for the Salt Lake City-based company. “They have that natural work ethic, and they are also more willing to be out there on the road for extended periods of time.” They also have a higher retention rate, he says.

Crete also sees lower turnover among veterans. “I think a lot of that is due to loyalty to who’s giving them an opportunity, who’s training them and who’s bringing them onboard,” Phillips says. About 80 percent of the veterans entering Crete’s student driver program complete it and become company drivers within their first year — a success rate about 15 percent higher than Crete’s nonmilitary students, he says.

To recruit veterans, many carriers – including Werner, Crete, C.R. England and Cookeville, Tenn.-based Averitt Express (CCJ Top 250, No. 23) – have established truck driver apprenticeship programs that allow qualified veterans to use their GI Bill to receive on-the-job training. “Basically, the military will help subsidize income for that first year,” Phillips says, noting money earned through the GI Bill is on top of wages paid by the carrier. “That’s some pretty good money they can make that first year.”

Phillips says Crete pays veterans in its student driver program a premium rate largely because of tough competition for them: The U.S. veteran unemployment rate is 3.5 percent compared to a civilian unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

– Jeff Crissey contributed to this article.