The U.S. has struggled with a shortage of truck drivers for years. In 2021, the American Trucking Associations placed the deficit at more than 80,000 workers; the boom in e-commerce amid the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the gap. At least, that’s the popular narrative.
While 3.36 million truck drivers hauled freight throughout 2020 (and even more if you count self-employed drivers), there were more than 10 million CDL holders around that time. How do you account for the imbalance—which implies that millions of people who could be truck drivers are simply choosing other employment?
University of Pennsylvania labor expert Steve Viscelli has a theory. “There is no shortage of truck drivers,” he told The New York Times in 2022. “These are just really bad jobs.”
If that’s true, the question for employers—who must not only recruit drivers but also keep them on the team—is how to make the job better. Here’s our take on what smaller carriers can do to meet this goal.
How To Recruit CDL Truck Drivers: Tips For Growing Carriers
Small fleet owners have some hiring advantages over large carriers: namely, company culture and values. Small businesses have more freedom to accommodate driver requests, and drivers know it. But culture alone isn’t enough to outbid the competition.
To reach the recruitment leads that turn into career-long employees, you need to tackle three related challenges: finding a pool of potential drivers, sending an attractive message, and offering a compensation package that can compete. Here are some tips for all three efforts.
How to Hire Truck Drivers
- Advertise your business on trucking job boards. You may find your next employee on an industry-specific job board like CDLlife.com or truckerclassifieds.com. But drivers also search general job sites like monster.com and indeed.com. Post your open positions on these sites to reach a motivated audience of CDL holders.
- Use a third-party recruitment management system. Software services like Driver Reach provide digital human resource platforms. These tools manage hiring from finding leads to documenting DOT compliance. These services charge a fee, but for many employers, the return is clear.
- Work with a driver-specific temp agency. Truck driver staffing agencies like DriverSource and TransForce hire out available drivers in your area. Some of these temp drivers are looking for a permanent position, and when you work together on a temporary basis, you can decide to make an offer. You may have to pay a fee to hire the driver away from the agency, but there’s an obvious benefit: When you work with a driver before hiring them, you remove a lot of risk.
- Connect with truck driving schools in your market. Driver school administrators want their students to find jobs, and they partner with carriers to make that happen. Reach out to schools in your markets to start the relationship; here’s a good list. Just make sure your insurance covers newly licensed drivers before making a hire.
- Make an effort to reach out to underrepresented groups, including women, veterans, and formerly incarcerated people. If you’re having a hard time filling the ranks, providing opportunities to people from groups that aren’t normally represented in trucking isn’t just a nice thing for them—it also makes good business sense. Organizations like Women in Trucking and Visa Solutions can provide resources to learn more.
- Use your online presence to attract drivers across the web. You can also connect directly with potential recruits. Post a hiring page on your website and push recruitment content through your social media channels. Not sure how to create content that motivates drivers to seek you out? Keep reading to learn about effective recruitment materials.
- Post your open positions on Craigslist. In October of 2018, almost a quarter of U.S. internet users between the ages of 30 and 49 visited Craigslist. That’s a huge number of visitors, including many job-seekers. When other job boards fail, Craigslist makes a great alternative.
Messaging That Attracts New Employees
- Describe the benefits of your company culture in your job postings, in social media content, and on your website. Culture is one of the great advantages small carriers have over their larger counterparts—but that only helps with recruitment when you advertise it. Do you have a family atmosphere or offer drivers flexibility on routes and schedules? Say so in your recruitment copy.
- Include driver testimonials in your hiring content. Work testimonials into your job description if you can, but social media is also a great place to let your happy employees do the talking. Post videos or comments from your drivers, describing why they like driving for you.
- Provide a full and clear description of work responsibilities in recruiting copy. Jobseekers like to know what employers will expect of them. Provide a detailed description of your drivers’ day-to-day responsibilities in your recruitment materials. By sharing this information upfront, you can save a lot of time sifting through drivers who are looking for a different type of position.
- Advertise rider- and pet-friendly options for drivers. You may get more applications if you let riders or companion animals accompany drivers on the job. First, though, you’ll have to share the fact that you offer this perk. This message goes back to the idea of being open about your company culture and values; the more drivers know about working on your team, the better matches you’ll get. That’s also true about the strongest point of competition in hiring drivers: compensation.
Setting A Competitive Compensation Package
- Boost base pay, whether that’s salary or cents-per-mile (CPM). Whether you pay drivers with a salary or based on working miles through the CPM model, it’s hard to hire without competitive wages. That said, base pay isn’t the only type of compensation job-seekers look for—and many smaller carriers attract plenty of new drivers by simply being a great place to work.
- Provide full health benefits. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10% of all workers lacked health insurance in 2019. Among truck drivers, the figure was 15%. This insurance gap makes health benefits a strong factor in choosing one employer over another, so include strong health insurance among your benefits if you can make it work.
- Consider sign-on bonuses or cash incentives. Sign-on bonuses may help you attract new drivers, but they may also encourage job-hopping as your competitors do the same. However, you can mitigate this risk by offering bonuses later in the employment cycle—after 30 days or 90 days, or even annually.
- Offer an attractive retirement package. Retirement plans don’t just encourage current employees to stay; they also draw in new workers and help attract the most career-minded among them. A matching retirement account is ideal, but any kind of employee retirement plan can beef up your compensation to drive hiring.
- Include paid sick leave for drivers. Few carriers do, so this benefit will make your company stand out from the crowd. In 2022, just 43% of carriers offered paid sick leave as a benefit. Those that did probably had happier drivers, and fewer hiring headaches.
How To Retain Truck Drivers Once You Hire Them
Once you figure out how to recruit drivers, the next step is to keep them on your team. Driver retention is a serious challenge in the trucking industry. According to one survey, retention topped 100% in 2019. The key is to keep your drivers happy. Here are a few tips that can help with the three most important elements of a satisfying workplace: communication, support, and incentives.
Communicate with your team, listen, and adjust policies when you can.
- Maintain a culture of openness and two-way communication. Driving trucks is highly autonomous work, but don’t let your drivers feel like they’re alone out there. Check in with drivers and make sure they know they can reach out; a supportive environment makes employees want to stick around, and that starts with culture.
- Strive to accommodate driver requests. Does your driver want to bring a rider or a pet on the road? If your insurance allows it, why not? Are they fans of Sirius radio or podcasts? Invest in the audio entertainment that drivers ask for. Look for customers and routes that allow drivers to get home when they need to. Be open to changing policy to meet your drivers’ needs.
- Set clear expectations from the start. Make an initial work agreement: Say, five days on-duty, two days off weekly, with three weeks of paid time off per year. Put it in writing, then stick to it. If you need to change policy, inform drivers a few weeks before the changes take effect. Ask drivers to be upfront about their changing needs, too. You can always renegotiate employment terms, but without clarity, drivers will end up frustrated—and start looking for new jobs.
Provide the tools and services that make life on the road easier.
- Write down consistent procedures for all workplace processes. It’s hard to meet expectations when you’re not sure about the next step. Help your drivers by providing standard operating procedures for everything from load management to handling weight station stops.
- Provide services that improve driver comfort and convenience. Purchase passes for toll routes and weigh stations so your drivers can keep moving. Offer fuel cards with incentive programs: free coffee and free showers, for example. Invest in a maintenance contract that ensures quick roadside assistance with mechanical issues. Any services that make life easier on the road will lead to happier drivers and longer-term employees.
- Outfit drivers with the necessary equipment. It’s frustrating to be caught without the right tool for the job. Make sure drivers have appropriate equipment—whether that’s a tire thumper or an advanced GPS system—before they head out on the road. Again, open lines of communication can help to identify driver needs.
Allow for a healthy work/life balance.
- Plan jobs to get drivers home more frequently. Of course, you also have to set driver schedules to meet the needs of your business. That’s a tough balancing act, but it’s not impossible: You get to choose your loads, after all. Fleet operators often grab the most profitable jobs first, then impose a schedule on drivers. That’s backwards. Ask drivers what schedules work for them, and choose loads that match—and adjust routes so drivers don’t end the week miles from home.
- Support driver health, on-duty and off. Every driver will have their own needs and preferences for how to stay healthy, but employers can support these choices. Offer memberships to nationwide fitness clubs. Outfit sleeper cabs with mini-fridges and microwaves so drivers can prepare healthy meals on the road. Promote awareness of the health risks associated with the job—and provide educational resources for interested drivers. Most importantly: Include robust health insurance in your benefits package.
Show appreciation with incentives and pay increases.
- Offer bonuses. Periodic cash infusions both increase a driver’s annual pay and give them a reason to stick around. They’re also a material sign of your esteem and gratitude.
- Celebrate special moments with non-cash gifts. Birthday gifts and housewarming presents show that you see your drivers as more than employees; you recognize them as complete human beings. A well-timed gift or gift card shows you care and creates a culture of community.
- Increase pay on a regular schedule. Whether you boost salaries or cents-per-mile rates annually, after quarterly reviews, or both, a regular schedule of rising pay helps incentivize drivers to stay.
Navigating The Trucking Labor Market In 2022
Anecdotally, it isn’t easy to find new drivers as we publish. In July 2022, trucking company owner James Gonzalez, of Galveston, Texas, told the Washington Post that hiring was a nonstarter.
“It’s so hard to find people—especially someone who knows what they’re doing,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and can’t think of a time it’s been this tough.”
But as we mentioned at the outset, millions of CDL holders in the U.S. aren’t driving trucks. Enticing these workers back to the trucking industry may require employers to offer higher pay, more comfortable working conditions, and a raft of new incentives. Remember, you’re not just competing with other trucking companies for drivers; you’re competing with every employer, including those whose jobs keep workers close to home.
Experiment with the tips listed above to improve driver experiences, and you’ll be more likely to keep your company growing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hiring Truck Drivers
Still have questions about hiring and retaining drivers? Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions on the subject.
Why is it hard to find truck drivers?
It hasn’t always been this hard to hire drivers, and not all companies are having a hard time with it. Like all economic signals, labor supply and demand fluctuate constantly. But according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), if trends don’t change, we could see today’s estimated driver shortage double by 2030.
The ATA offers a long list of potential reasons for the shortage, which help to explain why some employers are struggling to hire. Here are just a few:
- A lot of drivers are reaching retirement age and leaving the field.
- The trucking industry has historically failed to bring women into the workforce; in 2022, they made up only 7.8% of U.S. truck drivers. An increase of just 2.3% in women drivers would erase the 80,000-driver shortage.
- The pandemic slowed down training, so there are fewer new CDL holders ready for work than usual.
The tips listed above can help to counter these trends. The trick is to remain committed to the hiring effort, always ready to try a new recruitment strategy.
Why do truck drivers quit?
There are probably as many reasons for quitting as there are drivers who quit. But according to the ATA, these factors often play a part:
- Long-haul truckers get tired of being away from home.
- The nation’s infrastructure can be frustrating, with few truck parking spots and city traffic. These frustrations add up, and drivers leave the field.
- The ATA doesn’t say why, exactly, but it’s clear that the pandemic led many drivers to exit the industry.
In mid-2022, there’s another reason that may lead drivers to seek other employment: The current hot labor market is providing lots of options. Maybe drivers are finding work they prefer closer to home.
How do you increase driver retention?
Hiring is just one piece of the workforce puzzle; you also need drivers to stay on your team. The simplest way to boost retention is to provide great workplace experiences. Unfortunately, meeting that goal is no simple task. Hopefully the ideas we outlined above can get you started.
Maintaining Cash Flow For Recruitment And Retention
You may have noticed that a lot of these tips require you to spend more money. Hiring can be an expensive proposition, and when you need new drivers now, it’s important to have reliable cash flow. That’s not easy when your customers operate on net-30 or net-60 terms. Factoring with Bobtail provides a solution. This easy-to-use app allows you to upload rate confirmations and bills of lading—and get funded for outstanding invoices that day.
We don’t lock you into restrictive contracts or enforce volume limits. It’s a simple, quick way to keep cash flowing so you can focus on your workforce. Now that you know how to attract truck drivers and keep them on your payroll, start getting funded. Sign up for a free trial with Bobtail, or call us at 410-204-2084 for more information.