Driver Retention Begins During Recruitment

Jasper Purvis

April 2, 2024

Originally published on FleetOwner

Labor is on the industry’s mind, evidenced by the results of a 2023 American Transportation Research Institute survey about top trucking industry issues. Survey respondents, which included motor carrier executives and personnel, truck drivers, and other industry stakeholders, indicated that the driver shortage was among the top five issues facing the trucking industry in 2023. While down two places from number two in 2022, the driver shortage remaining among the top five issues facing industry professionals is enough to warrant a remedy.

ATA surveyed carriers and found that from 1995 to 2017, the average driver turnover for large truckload carriers was 94%, while the average turnover rate for smaller truckload carriers was 79.2%.

While LTL seems to be a segment that’s more favorable to drivers (with an average turnover rate of 11.7% between 2000 and 2017), the truckload segment is a necessary part of the supply chain; therefore, it’s essential to keep it staffed—and that comes at a high price. Estimates vary, but a 2000 Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute study found turnover cost fleet companies $8,234 per driver on average. That’s the equivalent of $14,828 today.

“Always, turnover is a big deal when we talk to our trucking customers,” said Jasper Purvis, VP of business development at Selerix, a benefits administration platform. “How do they reduce turnover, because the cost of that is so high for them. Just to try to recruit and get new people that are good is always difficult.”

Ways to improve recruitment

There are multiple ways to improve a fleet’s recruitment process, beginning with how the job is posted. Additional changes include improving driver benefits—which can be achieved at little cost to the fleet—and building a company culture that fosters employee growth.

Advertise for the job

Improving the driver recruitment strategy begins before the opening is advertised. Mark Murrell, president and co-founder of CarriersEdge, a provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, said fleets should decide what kind of driver they are looking for and then advertise for that position.

The trucking industry is full of various types of driving roles: some keep drivers away for weeks at a time, while others allow drivers to come home each evening; other positions come with stressful driving scenarios, such as frequent tight parking or urban driving. Because the trucking industry is so varied, it’s important fleets make the position details known from the start.

“Every fleet has somebody who is going to be an ideal fit for them and a terrible fit for them,” Murrell told FleetOwner. “You have to know, ‘What kind of person are we looking for?’… Figure out what is the job that you’re offering, and be very clear on marketing that.” Then, “screen applicants that will fit with that type of work.”

Murrell said that hiring managers tend to focus on clean driving records, jobs held in the past few years, and drug and alcohol issues, but he said those aspects of the job are “table stakes.” While necessary to look at when considering employment, having a clean record won’t ensure a driver will be an excellent fit for the open position. 

Benefits extend beyond working hours

When drivers consider a new job, they’ll also consider company benefits. The driver might be on company time 8 to 11 hours a day, but the benefits fleets can provide should extend well beyond those hours of service.  

“(The drivers’) whole life, to me, is about benefits,” Purvis said. Fleets should ask whether they “incorporate benefits and, more important, rewards for your employees outside of work … so when they are at work, they’re focused and doing the best they can.”

This requires fleets to think beyond traditional benefits, such as PTO, health care, and 401k. Purvis said fleets could encourage their drivers to do things outside of the workplace and with their families. This could mean rewarding a driver with a short stay at a nice hotel with them and a guest.

It’s easy for fleets to fixate on the driver alone when considering their health and wellness, but Purvis noted driver wellness isn’t about just one person— “it’s that entire ecosystem that lives around them,” which is their family.

“How do you encourage health and wellness for the (drivers’) entire families?” Purvis said. “What we’ve come to find is, when the families are healthy, the employee becomes healthier.”

It’s easy for fleets to fixate on the driver alone when considering their health and wellness, but Purvis said driver wellness isn’t about just one person, “it’s that entire ecosystem that lives around them,” which is their family.

Culture is key

Another benefit that leaders might forget about, but drivers are often keenly aware of, is the company culture. The benefits a company provides, primarily when related to driver wellness, go hand in hand with the company’s culture. Purvis said to improve company culture, fleets should start by understanding that work is a “finite point for an employee’s life cycle.” He told FleetOwner that fleet leaders should acknowledge that work, while an important aspect, impacts the employees while they’re outside the cab.

Developing a healthy, positive company culture begins with the hiring process. Purvis said health and wellness should be highlighted throughout the process as a differentiator from other fleets. This also underscores the importance your company places on health and wellness. If new hires see this as an obstacle to their happiness, they will likely decide on their own whether they are a good fit. 

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