Spotlighting SMBs in the Transport Sector: Approaches for Driver Recruitment and Retention

Small and medium-sized businesses today face increasing challenges on every front. With an uncertain economic outlook and rising pressures, SMBs in every industry must examine how to adapt their strategies to these changing times. That change is currently more pressing in the transport sector than elsewhere. 

Every day, tens of billions of dollars of freight move via United States roads alone. The Department of Transportation predicts that the total tonnage of freight moved by truck will increase by more than 40% by 2050—and trucks already carry nearly three-quarters of all US freight. This increasing demand creates many opportunities for smaller carriers to compete against major trucking companies. 

With such a high level of need, many owners of transport industry SMBs see incredible potential for growth—there's just one problem. A significant shortage of qualified truck drivers remains a serious issue, and it doesn't look set to resolve any time soon. The American Trucking Association believes it will take recruiting a million new drivers and ten years to turn the tide of a shortage that may reach beyond 150,000 drivers by the start of 2030. This issue impacts carriers of every size, but SMBs feel its effects most acutely. 

How can these businesses remain competitive while bringing in trustworthy, experienced, and safe drivers to haul freight? Developing a strategy targeted at smaller companies to recruit and retain drivers is essential. It still takes hard work and time, but understanding current industry trends and gauging what you can do to attract talent are the foundations of a solution. This white paper reviews what transport SMBs should factor into their staffing strategies and how to keep their companies safer.

How Can Today's Transportation SMBs Improve Recruitment?

Attracting suitable candidates is easier said than done, even for a basic office environment. When you need to bring in people with a specific skill set, such as the ability to operate a huge tractor-trailer safely over long distances and at high speed, driver recruitment becomes even more challenging, besides the ongoing shortages.

For SMBs, recruitment can consume much of your focus and energy in the early days. If you're having trouble retaining drivers—more on that later—recruitment can turn into an ongoing process that never seems to yield the desired results. It doesn't help that the size of the trucking workforce has decreased, leaving a quarter of open positions unfilled for six months or more.

Where should you look to find candidates today, and how are others in the industry investing in recruitment strategies for the future?

Exploring the Best Channels To Reach Potential Candidates

To succeed in recruiting today, your business must be where your candidates are online. Having a prominent and easily accessible "Careers" section on your website is important, but what about all the potential leads besides those you land on your website? Typically, recruiters today find they have the most success at finding suitable individuals they ultimately hire by using the following channels in addition to company websites:

  • Online job posting websites, such as Indeed, Monster, GetWork and others
  • Social media advertising and outreach
  • Employee referrals and internal recruiting work.

Only some leads from these channels will yield a candidate you can hire. They may not have the license endorsements you need on their CDL, or they may find a better offer elsewhere. However, with turnover high for everyone, you can use other strategies to retarget candidates who didn't engage in the hiring process. 

By developing a broader presence online that extols the virtues of driving your small business, especially on social media, you can dig deeper for qualified candidates.

Leveraging the Power of Social Media

Over 75% of people seeking jobs today use social media as a part of their search, and businesses have taken notice. More than 40% of companies ramped up their social media presence in 2022, and nearly the same amount increased their ad spending. Posting more frequently, placing paid ads, and especially sharing real employee stories on social platforms contribute to boosting the visibility of your open positions. 

With the option on sites such as Facebook to give users a button to click straight to the application page, there are many opportunities to take advantage of social networks for recruiting. SMBs should recognize these spaces and consider them the sole domain of the industry's biggest fish. Instead, see it as a valuable tool, especially for targeted advertising and reaching out to candidates in your local area.

Looking Inward for Innovative Recruitment Opportunities



Most recruiters think of external outreach as the most crucial method for bringing new drivers into the hiring pipeline. This outlook is somewhat limited and can leave many excellent opportunities untapped. Why not look internally for opportunities and turn other employees into recruiters?

Staff members and drivers may know others ready to change jobs or enter the industry, but they might not think to refer them to your open job listings. Start by creating a program for employees that awards some a bonus for a successful referral; these rewards might increase as someone helps the business employ more qualified candidates. 

Give these internal recruiters the resources they need to succeed. A description of the job, duties, and the company that's easy to share is a perfect tool for social media. Make sure everyone in the business knows they have the opportunity to participate in making referrals. This channel, often overlooked, can drive serious value for transportation SMBs.

Trending Investment Strategies in Recruitment

Although an expanding presence on social media is, by and large, the biggest trend among transportation service providers, other important trends impact recruitment. Some trends relate to finding recruits; others involve making the position more attractive to job seekers.

For example, 41% of businesses have made an in-depth exploration of the compensation packages they offer. Pay rates are rising, and a broader package of benefits is incredibly enticing to many drivers today, particularly with high healthcare costs across the country. Simultaneously, 24% say they've invested in expanding sign-on bonuses. Though an expensive process, hefty hiring bonuses attract talented drivers who often already have the experience and safety record recruiters want to see.

Logistics providers also continue to increase spending on advertising as an outreach and awareness tool, and almost a quarter invest more in search engine marketing and optimization. To succeed in today's labor market, transportation companies must make themselves stand out online—with their brand presence and the value of the job.

Retention Efforts for Maintaining Your Workforce

Adding new drivers to your payroll may be challenging, but if recent trends are any indicator, retaining employees after hiring has proven a serious challenge too. Nearly half of businesses say they're facing more employee churn, and 42% say that even the turnover rate of new hires is far higher than usual. That speaks to a serious problem: businesses may need to do more to sell drivers on staying with the company. The wrong working conditions can keep your recruiters stuck on the hiring treadmill.

At the same time, the cost of hiring has been on the rise, and 88% of businesses say finding qualified candidates is a considerable hurdle. Even retaining applicants is challenging for some, with 15% of transit businesses saying fewer job offers were accepted.

Retaining employees is one of the most pressing concerns across industries today, especially in the wake of the headline-making "Great Resignation." What areas do you need to focus on to make driver retention a less stressful and difficult goal?


The Real Value of Remuneration

Improving driver compensation packages is the most important step SMBs can take to improve retention. Better packages are also more effective at bringing in talented and motivated driver candidates. Sixty-seven percent of commercial transport companies say they're focused on increasing rates of pay, while 40% invest in improving benefits. 

From 2018 to 2022, the desire to increase take-home pay was the primary reason commercial drivers reported leaving one job for another. While you cannot out-compete every other business on wages, there are strategies many companies have begun exploring for building more attractive packages overall. 

For example, creating a bonus system based on performance and safety incentivizes drivers to maintain high quality standards. Improving benefits to include better healthcare or retirement account options are also popular choices. While it is always important to focus on fostering good company culture, one thing is clear: drivers go—and stay—where the money is.


Are You Communicating Well Enough With Staff?

This industry is unique because most transportation company employees don't work in the office. Indeed, drivers for the same company may hardly ever interact with one another, especially in the long-haul business. This disconnect often also exists between drivers and company management. Over time, this distance can lead to a fracturing relationship, especially when drivers feel that their concerns fall on deaf ears.

Refining how you connect with and maintain communications with your drivers will improve retention. While 49% of companies say they consistently use email to communicate, the nature of email can make it impersonal and cold. Thirty-six percent of providers have started to arrange more direct contact between management, staff, and drivers. In contrast, others use social media or even a custom mobile app.

There are many reasons to seize opportunities to improve communication. Drivers who feel they have a voice in the business and an honest way to communicate their feelings about their position may stay with the company for longer. When employees feel support and understanding from management, it's simpler to avoid festering feelings of unhappiness that ultimately lead to turnover.

Why Invest Time and Effort Into Employee Retention?

Consistency is vital in commercial transport. Clients expect their freight at the quoted time and in the best condition. For a growing SMB, retaining qualified drivers is essential to keeping the focus on success and improving brand reputation. Clients who know a provider as trustworthy, fast, reliable, and exceptionally safe on the road will likely remain repeat business. Effective retention is crucial for improving client relations and your reputation.

Hiring is expensive and time-consuming, especially in an industry facing a shortage of qualified drivers. Why should you want to do it any more often than necessary? Keep costs down and re-invest the savings into the business to improve circumstances for the drivers you retain. Ultimately, these efforts positively impact how job-seekers perceive you as an employer, making it simpler to attract more candidates as you scale.

Protecting Your Business During Recruitment With Background Screening


There’s another element that has the power to make retention a simpler process for trucking SMBs—good due diligence. While a friendly chat during a job interview helps you get to know the person, you'll need to take a few extra steps to learn everything you need to know. Reducing the number of potentially unsuitable drivers on your staff may reduce turnover and keep drivers around much longer. A good screening process also helps you select individuals who contribute positively to the company's overall culture.

Reviewing a driver's motor vehicle record is already a part of the process for most companies because of Department of Transportation regulations, and a criminal background check is also required. What else should you do, though? When you need to hire commercial drivers quickly, can you afford to go above and beyond the minimum effort the law requires?

Should You Stick to the Minimum Necessary or Go Even Farther?

Existing regulations in the transportation industry seek to establish a baseline of safety, but is it possible to unlock benefits for your business by taking additional steps? A growing number of companies say "yes." Thirty-seven percent of respondents in a transportation spotlight survey say they're already exploring increasing the amount of screening they do in the next year. Though 90% of businesses already access motor vehicle records and 79% use pre-employment background screening, there are many other steps one can take.

These steps include verifying previous employment data, checking national drug and alcohol clearing houses, and even using Social Security numbers to verify identities. This last step can prove especially useful for uncovering potential aliases and related records that could disqualify an applicant.

Adding a robust criminal background check to the process provides your business with vital information to consider. In an analysis of more than two million criminal checks run in one year, the transportation industry's "hit rate" for positive records was almost twice the other surveyed sectors combined. Don't put your SMB's reputation on the line by overlooking important information you could discover in a background check.

Fostering a Drug-Free Workplace

Drug test positivity rates have increased nationwide, and this industry is no different. By and large, we can attribute this change to shifting attitudes surrounding marijuana and increasing legalization nationwide. THC represents the lion's share of positive drug tests for drivers today. 

However, regulations do not permit drivers with positive tests to stay on the road unless a Medical Resource Officer overturns the result for a legitimate medical reason. Companies can face liability or even regulatory fines if they aren't careful with these procedures. 

Therefore, routine but un-intrusive testing is an important addition to your processes. Many strategies are on the table, such as near-instant saliva-based tests that mostly indicate recent use. These quick and inexpensive tests provide your business with rapid data that supplements random testing and provides an additional safety layer.

Conclusion

Navigating the future of transportation employment is by no means simple, but it is far from impossible. From understanding what attracts drivers to a business to finding candidates online and internally, SMBs have many tools to stay competitive. Even with the ongoing driver shortage, exciting opportunities exist to capitalize upon when you build the best trucking team.

Stay up to date on industry trends to keep your business agile in response to changes. Our additional resources about transportation include in-depth information about building safe, effective hiring processes, plus news and insight on recent industry developments operators should know.

As the transport industry adapts and changes in response to unfolding challenges, positioning your business to recruit excellent drivers and keep them around for the long term is the key to earning a competitive advantage.

Be sure. Be confident. Be fast, efficient, and consistent.

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