One chronic problem that did not plague the trucking industry during the recession was the driver shortage. That persistent complaint was temporarily salved by the simple lack of freight. Returning prosperity, however, also means a return of the driver problem.
At Schneider National, however, the company has never considered the driver shortage “gone,” according to Michael Hinz, vp of driver recruiting. “I believe there has been and continues to be an underlying driver shortage, which was just temporarily interrupted by the downturn,” he told Fleet Owner. “Now all we are doing is scaling [our recruiting] back up, not trying to go from a dead stop.”
The company has already made significant changes to its fleet operation to attract and keep the best drivers. “The driver demographic is changing as older, experienced drivers are retiring and leaving the business,” Hinz said. “We need to ensure that we have jobs available that meet the needs of both experienced drivers and new drivers. This means looking at your operation in a new way.
“We are looking at how we create work,” he explains. “The work/life balance has become even more important. More people want daily or weekly regular time at home.
“Three or four years ago, perhaps fifty percent of our fleet was out for three or four weeks at a time,” Hinz says. “Now 75 percent of our drivers get home every week or even more often. Many other carriers in our industry are in the same position. We are all trying to match what our customers want from us with our evolving workforce. I would say our criterion has evolved to finding the right driver for the right work. If you do that, they stay. It is when you try to force a fit that someone ends up disappointed.
“We have one of the most thorough background checks to try to make sure that there is a good fit between the driver and the carrier and the work itself,” he adds. “If you do that, it benefits everybody.
“Customers can also do things on the front end and the back that are good for the drivers,” notes Hinz. “Having good procedures and clean, efficient, safe workplaces minimize downtime, for instance, while good working relationships and knowledgeable people are advantageous to both the customer and the driver.”
Hinz, like many other recruiters, completely supports CSA 2010, although he expects it will probably knock some percentage of the total driver population out of the industry, making the driver shortage even worse. “We are evaluating how it will impact our recruiting,” he said.
Schneider does not do its own basic driver training anymore, but instead partners with some 120 driving schools, according to Hinz, which encourage drivers to visit the company’s recruiting website to learn more. “We have a special program for people separating from the military, for instance,” he noted.. “They pay for their own schooling, but we give them a letter of intent.”
As Hinz sees it, truck driving is good work that pays drivers of $40,000 to $50,000 per year. “Driving is real work,” he adds. “It is a craft, a profession. This can improve lives.”