The Challenge of Recruiting Drivers

The Challenge of Recruiting Drivers
By Andrea Obston

As the workload for delivery companies heats up, the challenge of finding and retaining quality drivers is getting tougher. Today, delivery companies, online mega-retailers, Uber, and Lyft are all going after the same pool for drivers—and it’s getting tougher and tougher. 

The Customized Logistics and Delivery Association (CLDA) recently interviewed three industry professionals to get their take on the issue and learn how they are coping with these challenges. The professionals are:

Kathleen Grady, HR director, Priority Dispatch, Cincinnati, Ohio
Clayton Peppers, process improvement team leader, Pace Runners, Birmingham, Ala.
Beth Sayler, HR director at Hackbarth Delivery Service in Mobile, Ala.

Here’s how their companies are responding to the challenge of recruiting good, dependable, customer-oriented drivers:

What does the landscape look like for recruiting drivers?

Grady: It’s a huge challenge. First of all, the labor market is very small, and it’s shrinking. We’re competing for drivers with companies like Uber and Lyft. People who are attracted by these companies like the idea of setting their hours, but they really aren’t interested in becoming true independent contractors. They want to pick up three hours of work here and there. The millennial market that’s supposed to be coming our way isn’t what we thought it would be. Supposedly, they want to be entrepreneurs, but they really don’t understand the implications of being independent contractors. They may be dreaming of being entrepreneurs, but when we talk about all that entails and they compare it to full-time employment, they are turned off. When we get into things like, “you’re going to have to buy your fuel” or “there are technology fees to get you into our system” they disappear. 

Sayler: I agree with Kathleen. It’s incredibly competitive and very similar to the environment that exists in the nursing field. Everyone’s going after the same people. Even if we attract them, these drivers will jump to another carrier for the smallest reason, so we have to be more creative to get and keep them. We have to create an environment where people are excited to come to work. It’s not just about the benefits or the dollar amounts. If your company creates a culture where people feel they are impacting lives, and not just driving a truck, they’ll come, and they’ll stay. People yearn for something bigger than themselves. If the environment is such that they feel connected and empowered, they are going to stay. There’s one thing that we all have in common: We all want to be appreciated, respected, and part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to win, and be part of an organization that treats people right. We have to remember that to recruit and retain ICs successfully.

We also know that if we find the right people and get them to stay, those people have friends we would also like to employ. When these drivers feel part of something, they are going to tell their family and friends about what they do every day with a sense of pride. That encourages more people to work with us.

I also think it’s a matter of being fair with your ICs. They are in the business of making money, so we need to make sure that what we’re asking them to do is financially fair. Sometimes we might lose money on a route, but we need to keep the route to be profitable in a particular terminal. It’s not right to ask the IC to take a hit financially on that route every time. We need to develop a partnership with them, and that means being fair to them financially.  

Peppers: I agree with Kathleen and Beth. The overall landscape for recruiting drivers, O/Os, and carriers is both challenging and competitive. It also continues to change, adding complexity and confusion at every turn. 

Advances in technology, the “gig” economy, government regulations, and rising consumer expectations, have created a new recruiting environment. Now, on-demand capacity, perfect execution, and reduced margins are the minimum expectations of clients/customers. Recruiting to meet these expectations, while achieving our internal goals, must compel us to come up with creative solutions.   

This industry is in a transformative period, and we either adapt or perish. 

How and why is this environment different from five or 10 years ago?

Grady: It used to be that this was a great industry for retirees who wanted to make extra money. We used to work with quite a few of them as drivers.  But that’s not true anymore. We still have some retirees, but because of the technology applications and the cost of technology, it’s not the perfect place for retirees anymore.

Other fees also act as barriers to keep new ICs from coming into the business. These drivers have to pay for these because they are ICs. There are the fees to lease the equipment and workers comp.  Also, a lot of our customers are long-term care facilities. ICs for this sector must be drug screened and have background checks. Those can knock out some people.

Sayler: We’ve added a full-time in-house recruiter who is continually trying to figure out creative ways to get to potential drivers. It really helps that she is a millennial. She relates to these candidates and understands how these applicants view employment and what will attract them. We’ve used multiple job boards including Courier Board, Indeed, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and other social media outlets and have tied our website to all of these platforms. We’ve asked our staff and drivers to like our Facebook page and share our posts so they can reach their friends who could be potential ICs.

Today’s environment for attracting drivers is different because millennials are different. Society has told them that earning a living in a trade is not good. We offer a chance to make a respectable living, but they’ve heard the message that these kinds of jobs are not for them. 

Peppers: Ten years ago, the economic recession was in its early stages, and the landscape was much different than it is now. At that time, there were plenty of available bodies to fill driver seats, but no freight to ship. Now, it’s the other way around. 

What have you done to adapt to this?

Grady: We’re very conscious of how important our social media branding is. Doing it is very time-consuming. But you have to. Today, candidates go to the web to research companies before they apply or accept a job. They go to Glassdoor and Indeed. We are focused on making sure those sites have the right write-ups about us and the most up-to-date information. We also monitor the comments on Glassdoor and Indeed and respond to them.

Today’s environment makes it essential for all of us in the courier industry to be more sophisticated in our recruiting than we were even three years ago. I have five recruiters working for me, and it’s not enough. They have to put in a lot of work to get one person in a seat. 

We are running ads on Craigslist and Indeed. I’m paying more attention to these kinds of sites and the overall impact of the web than I have historically.  We are also very conscious of our website and its effect.  We have to make sure a candidate has a good experience when they go to our website. 

When we’re moving to a new city, we research that city. We look at the employment and unemployment scene. We look at the big industries there.  We scour information to see what the market for attraction will be. I ask questions like: “Is there an industry there that may have unemployment?” “Do I have a retiree population?” “What would their financial stability be?”  “What kinds of places do I have to go to find people?”  “Is diversity an opportunity?”  I’m looking at colleges.  We’ve had success in recruiting at colleges and universities. I might find engineers who want to job share and may split the work. International students are also good possibilities. 

You have to be creative if you want to recruit drivers successfully. You also must research and understand your possible recruits.  We’ll try something new and see how it works. Then, we’ll share that information among our recruiters. We have weekly meetings where we share, and problem solve together

We try to keep our core process the same, but when you have a new customer, we have to speed up everything to quickly meet their demands. We compress a lot of our process. When you get a new customer with immediate needs, you can’t wait two weeks to get drivers. 

Peppers: We built out our Carrier Relations department in 2017. The mission was to seek out partnerships with new IC’s/carriers proactively and to maintain a network of long-lasting, mutually-prosperous relationships with them.

My team builds relationships.  We want our carrier vendors to understand Pace’s mission, share in each other’s success, and most importantly, we want to help them grow their respective businesses.   

We’ve increased the variety of incentives and bonuses to our IC’s/carriers/drivers, too, including sign-on; KPI/performance goals; driver referrals, and perfect attendance. And, because a majority of surveyed contractors prefer their gratification sooner, rather than later, we even started offering smaller incentives that are paid in the first settlement, or distributed over the first few settlements.  From day one, it lets them know that we appreciate their services; that we’re committed to their future success and that we want to do whatever we can to assist them.

On another note, business analytics has helped us adapt. We can project our clients’ demand, with reasonable accuracy, much earlier now, by looking at historical figures and current data. For example, in planning for our upcoming peak season—November and December—we already have an estimated capacity goal that we'd like to reach. We will begin onboarding drivers and vendors much earlier than we did previously, which lets us strengthen our carrier relationships and develop the drivers in a calmer season. 

Grady: Those are good points. We want to show drivers early in our relationship with them how they can make money and be successful in this business. We try to be flexible and creative in the offerings we make. Can we delay some costs?  For example, we don’t take out uniform costs until they get one full commission.  We want them to get a taste of success first.

Sayler: Recruiting from the newer generations who are entering the workforce means realizing that they expect flexibility.  They also like to work for companies that are socially and environmentally conscious.  We let them know what Hackbarth Delivery does and where we stand as well as what we are doing to give back to the community.

What are the keys to keeping new drivers?

Grady: Retention is just as important as attraction.  There needs to be a good relationship between operations and HR to make them stay.  We put a lot of focus on onboarding new drivers so they are correctly oriented and can be successful as soon as possible.  If HR brings on someone and hands them off to operations, they have to know they have a role in keeping them. Millennials are skittish.  If things don’t work, they won’t hang in there to try again.  They just cut off communication.  When they want to leave, that’s what they do.

Everyone has a role here in mentoring new drivers.  Most don’t have courier or business experience.  Dispatch needs to let them know how they interface with them.  HR needs to teach them how to present themselves professionally when they go out.  They need help with business issues like taxes.  We can’t give them tax advice,  but we can tell them to keep good records.

Sayler: millennials also need to be heard.  They’ve grown up getting a lot of feedback, and they depend on it. When people feel like they’ve been heard they tend to stay. It needs to go beyond a yearly review, so if they are messing up, they want to know it now and to understand what they can do to fix things. 

We learn from Glassdoor.  We look at comments from people and see if there are issues we can change based on those comments.

What final thoughts can you leave us with when it comes to recruiting drivers today?

Peppers: Look everywhere.  Talk to your current drivers.  They may know someone, or they may be interested in expanding their current workload.  Be persistent in your follow-ups.  Do periodic outreach to previously uninterested contacts to keep them from going stale.  Keep recruiting, whether or not you have current opportunities.  You may not have any open routes or opportunities right now, but every route could become available if a driver is not performing up to expectations.  Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, was well known for terminating the bottom-performing 10 percent of his sales force every year. I’m not necessarily suggesting an approach that is that dramatic.  On the other hand, we know there will be drivers who don’t perform up to expectations and will get replaced. 

Another piece of advice is this: Know what your competitors are doing and where you stack up.  There is no better recruitment killer than to offer a bonus that’s 50 percent less than the guy across town is providing. 

Lastly: HIRE SLOW, FIRE FAST.  Take your time to find the right person.  And, once you identify a “wrong” person, let them go at the earliest opportunity.

Sayler: I would add this: recruiting can’t be just one person’s responsibility in your company—it’s got to be everyone’s job at all times.  Everyone should be a recruiter 24/7/365.  I’ll be at the grocery store and spot a cashier who’s going above and beyond, and say to myself, “is what we offer a better job for her?”

And I have devoted recruiters—they are excellent. They post jobs and monitor and vet candidates as fast as they can, but there’s no way in 40 markets that this group of people alone can be as capable as everyone in the company. Recruiting has to be everyone’s job!

About the Author

Andrea Obston is the PR Director of the CLDA.