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Fleets can pivot to tackle chronic driver turnover

Sept. 26, 2022
As the dynamics of the job for truck drivers evolve, the fleets who acknowledge and act on these changes will have a better chance seating their trucks.

Persistent driver turnover coupled with attracting younger drivers into trucking are problems the industry has been trying to wrap its head around for decades. But for decades, the industry has been relying on a lot of the same-old recruiting tactics—even as the dynamics of the job continue to evolve.

Over the past few years, Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and EVP at J.B. Hunt, has seen that an increasing number of drivers are showing greater interest in regional and local jobs compared to over the road. To accommodate these drivers, Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt (which ranks No. 5 on FleetOwner’s Top 500: For-Hire Fleets of 2022 list) has begun converting much of its freight from linehaul to intermodal and regional.

Currently, 90% of the carrier’s driving jobs are local or regional, which has helped J.B. Hunt lower turnover through the years, Harper said during FTR’s 2022 Transportation Conference in Indianapolis.

See also: How shop culture plays a role in recruiting, retaining technicians

“For many years, we would ask, what are we going to do about turnover? What are we going to do to attract people into the industry,” Harper explained.

“And people have acted like drivers were so different from the rest of us,” he added. “What do the rest of us want? We want to be able to take care of our families. We want to have a job where we are respected, and we’d like to be home and have a good environment to work in—get paid on time, make a good wage. When people talk about respect, sometimes it’s irritating because I hear them say that pay isn’t a big deal, it’s all about respect. How do you show someone your respect them if you don’t pay them a fair wage?”

Fellow panelist Leah Shaver, president and CEO of The National Transportation Institute, built her career around focusing on the lifespan of the professional driver—from pre-hire to retire. She pointed out that the carriers who provide training, upskilling, promotional opportunities, and the ability for their drivers to sidestep into different roles within the company succeed in retaining those employees.

Shaver added that the companies who limit their driver workforce to a particular job profile are the most challenged when it comes to seating their trucks.

Attracting younger drivers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, trucking’s driver workforce mostly is made up of those older than 45—with just 6% of the driver workforce between ages 20 and 24. Women account for just 7.8% of all truck drivers, according to the bureau.

“The chronic issue of turnover never really seems to go away, even in the weakest of times,” Avery Vise, FTR’s VP of trucking, pointed out during the panel session. “We have been talking about the aging truck driver I feel like for 25 years, and we are still talking about it. But now we are literally running into a demographic issue that is not just for trucking but more for trucking than average. How do we solve that? Is there anything that we can really do as an industry to make sure that we get a decent number of drivers who are in their 20s and 30s?”

“We have to understand that we have four generations of folks working today and that the oldest of them are slowly and surely exiting the system,” Shaver advised. “We have to not only understand that the job has changed but that the folks doing the job need different communication, they have different expectations, and they have a lot of other options.”

Former industry analyst Thom Albrecht, now CFO and chief revenue officer of trucking insurance provider Reliance Partners, said part of it is promoting truck driver wage increases, particularly for younger generations that might not want to take out student loans for college.

American Trucking Associations’ most recent driver compensation data shows the average truckload driver earned more than $69,000 (including salary and bonuses, but not benefits) in 2021—an increase of 18% since 2019. Private fleet drivers saw their wages stay at a higher level—more than $80,000 a year on average—according to ATA data.

NTI data also shows a similar increase in driver earnings. For the first time, the average annual W2 earnings for a company professional driver in long-haul segments topped the $70,000 mark in the middle of 2022, NTI shared with FleetOwner. In 2020, earnings for the OTR segment were just shy of $63,000.

See also: Now is not the time to pull back on driver recruiting, retention

In addition to promoting pay increases, NTI’s Shaver encourages trucking companies to be active in their communities, schools, and employees’ families to better promote the industry and its impact on society. She also emphasized the importance of continuously working to keep drivers engaged.

“Part of our coaching in making the job more attractive is to resell the job and the company to that driver over and over again,” Shaver advised. “Do not stop once you’ve recruited the driver; continue to court them and remind them why they choose you, what they liked about you, and why they should continue to stay.” 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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