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How to appeal to a changing truck driver demographic

March 3, 2022
Fleet executives who understand how demographics are changing will be better equipped to recruit and manage a younger generation of drivers.

Truck driver demographics are changing, and a once-common one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting, onboarding, training, and retention simply won’t cut it these days.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, 48% of people applying for truck driving jobs were under the age of 40, according to Driver Pulse data from Tenstreet, which provides web-based driver recruiting software and workflow solutions for trucking companies. Driver Pulse stores data from more than 1.5 million commercial drivers and aims to help carriers market, recruit, onboard, manage, and retain them.

Marilyn Surber, Tenstreet's transportation adviser, explained it’s important for fleet management to understand how demographics are changing so they are better equipped to recruit and manage a younger generation of drivers.

See also: Does trucking have a training problem?

Domicile also is an important factor. Driver Pulse data, for example, shows that companies hiring in the Southeast region get the highest number of drivers applying to their jobs, followed by jobs advertised for positions in the Midwest and Southwest. Jobs in the West and Northeast see the lowest number of drivers applying through Driver Pulse.

“If you are trying to recruit a 37-year-old from the Northeast, is that the same ad you are going to use for a 50-year-old man from Mississippi,” Surber pointed out. “It probably is today, but it probably shouldn’t be. Those are completely different groups of people.”

That mentality is changing from what Surber sees every day, with more and more trucking companies beginning to give their drivers paid time off and more flexible route options.

“We are seeing a once-in-a-generation digitization in our business as well,” Surber told FleetOwner. “There is a need to recruit and onboard more drivers electronically—even for small fleets that maybe aren’t there yet.”

Regardless of changing demographics in trucking, the turnover rate at large truckload fleets remains high, hitting a third-quarter 2021 annualized rate of 95%, according to American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello. Turnover, in part, is due to many older drivers retiring and aging out of the profession.

When thinking about how to appeal to that younger generation of workers, Lindsey Trent, president and co-founder of the Next Generation in Trucking Association (Next Gen Trucking), said apprenticeship programs can go a long way.

“One thing that we do know is apprenticeships help with retention,” Trent told FleetOwner. “If you can really get these young people onboarded and into your company and culture, then you’re going to be more successful at keeping them.”

Appeal to a diverse demographic

Next Gen Trucking officially formed as an association in July 2021 with a mission to get younger people—starting in middle and high school—interested in trucking as a profession. Trent, who has been in trucking for 10 years, said she believes young people are interested in trucking careers; they just need to know more.

“When you can pair the right student with the right trucking job, they get excited,” Trent explained. “I am on my local high school advisory board, and we helped them start a diesel technician program three years ago. The upward trajectory that we can get these students on to help them impact their lives is immense, and we have to educate them on different careers in trucking.”

To appeal to that younger generation, it’s important trucking executives know a thing or two about Generation Z—people 9 to 24 years old. They are entrepreneurial and expect to see clear pathways into trucking and how they can move up the ranks throughout their career, Trent noted. They also want to make a difference and care about the environment, she said, so communicating the benefits of clean truck technology and how trucking can make a difference in the community and in people’s lives entices them.

See also: Understanding Gen Z could be key to unlocking staff shortages

“We are a high-demand, high-skill, high-wage industry,” Trent said. “We need to let young people know they can have a successful career in trucking, where the sky is the limit. We need to make sure we are communicating that and that companies are starting to get engaged more in their local schools.”

Over the last year, truck driving also has become a more popular occupation for women, according to Tenstreet’s Driver Pulse data. In the first quarter of 2021, women made up 9.65% of Driver Pulse’s total driving population. By Q4 2021, that number had grown to 12.07%.

Surber attributes this growth to greater diversity among younger generations, more female-friendly job options, and ads directed at women in trucking have become increasingly common for carriers looking to recruit more women to fill their trucks.  

“I think trucking is ready for it,” Surber said. “We just have to get smarter as an industry at how we recruit, retain, and manage different groups of drivers in different ways if we want to control the turnover."

“The time is here; it’s a different era of trucking,” she added. “So, how are we going to adapt as an industry, so we don’t lose those drivers to other trades?”

Take driver feedback to heart

In its latest driver feedback trends analysis for 2021, WorkHound, whose platform gathers driver feedback for fleets, found that nearly 50% of drivers who communicated about training/orientation ended up leaving their companies by the end of the year.

When it comes to new drivers entering the industry, turnover is the highest in the first 90 or 180 days at any trucking company, Max Farrell, WorkHound co-founder and CEO, told FleetOwner.

Farrell also noted that to reduce turnover, it’s worth looking at how adults learn in trucking’s workforce.

“There is more of a commitment to continuous learning, where companies are doing ongoing training and have partnerships with learning management systems,” Farrell pointed out. “They are regularly thinking about content refreshers. That is really helpful to reinforce that training is not a three-day activity, it’s a career-long exercise.”

When companies approach training well, Farrell noted, they are aligning expectations with their workforce—and that’s particularly important for drivers.

“They are insuring drivers are receiving consistent, realistic information about the job and perpetually staying aligned with what they say and what they are delivering on,” he said.

Some of the negative feedback around training and orientation that WorkHound has seen is when orientation is unorganized or drivers were told certain timetables, but fleet management wasn’t consistent with those timetables.

“I’m a big fan of experiential learning,” Farrell told FleetOwner. “Companies should be thoughtful about what their people are going to experience on the road. They really need to factor in what drivers are going to experience so they can set them up for success.”

Part of that experiential learning and appealing to younger generations is when carriers consider what routes drivers want to run and begin finding more freight for those lanes, Farrell added.

“In the past, a trucking company would bid on whatever freight they could and that would make sense from a strategic standpoint, but they wouldn’t necessarily factor in what recruiting data was saying about what people wanted,” he said. “Now, more companies are using the data of what sort of work drivers want to do, and they figure out the right kind of freight to bid on.”

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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