With rising industry growth and falling unemployment, the economy has been steadily recovering over the past 8 years, following the start of the Great Recession in 2008. That’s overall great news for the nation, however the pool of potential workers is shrinking just as an aging driver population is retiring, federal regulations are restricting hours of service, and younger generations are increasingly associating trucking with low pay, poor working conditions, and an isolated and unhealthy lifestyle. In short, it has become harder and harder for trucking companies to find new drivers.
Offering higher pay is one potential solution for staying competitive as an employer, but that money must come from somewhere. Possible sources of higher driver pay include cutting costs across other areas of the business, raising the price on clients looking to ship products (which can lead to the price of goods going up for everyone as manufacturers cope with higher transportation costs), or cutting directly into company profits.
It’s a tough spot for shipping companies. They need drivers, but they also need quality administration, competitive prices, and decent profits; without each of these, a company will eventually cease to exist. The paradox of a driver shortage in a thriving economy has led some fleets to rethink the way the try to recruit and retain new truckers. With competition for drivers at an all time high, CCJDigital recently profiled one company’s innovative approach to attracting younger fleet employees:
Veriha Trucking, under the leadership of Karen Smerchek, has attempted to transform company leadership and workforce development through behavioral science. The new approach has successfully contributed to the recruitment and cultivation of a workforce that more closely resembles a modern-day business: “Sixty percent of front office staff are women, including 62 percent in leadership roles. Forty percent of the company’s front office staff, 47 percent of the shop personnel and nearly 30 percent of its drivers are millennial.”
(There are no real parameters for who constitutes a “millennial,” but they are generally thought of as as being born between the mid-80s and early 2000s, putting them into their 20s and 30s today.)
In a competitive labor market, Smerchek looks beyond technical skills and traditional experiences when hiring, and instead attempts to holistically evaluate the individual and the entire set of variable skills they may bring to the job. The practice has led to a dynamic and diverse workforce with members who complement each other with distinct strengths and weaknesses. And the new approach doesn’t stop at hiring, but continues into the day-to-day operation of the business.
Rather than attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole by refusing to adapt communication or processes to a younger workforce, Smerchek has adjusted the leadership style of Veriha Trucking to meet a new generation where they are. Millennials are known for seeking a sense of purpose in their work, so Veriha and her leadership team challenge their younger associates to passionately pursue specific goals.
By moving past simple commands or encouragement to a more comprehensive attempt at empowerment, Smerchek’s workforce is not only constantly improving, but is also becoming increasingly invested in the company that’s looking out for them. It’s no surprise, then, that driver retention rates has positively improved, reducing Veriha’s reliance on that shrinking pool of potential workers.
Not every trucking company is going to be willing to adapt their leadership, hiring, communication, or other processes to reach out to millennials. Many will think that they shouldn’t have to — traditional business practices got them this far, after all — so younger generations should get used to the old ways. But the paradox of a driver shortage during a period of low unemployment may not give transportation companies much of a choice. If they can’t afford to keep raising pay, then fleets will have to figure out new ways to attract new workers.
We’ll continue to discuss the ongoing driver shortage here on the blog — previously we’ve covered hiring trucking couples, giving ex-cons a second chance, exploring self-driving automation, and improving driver retention. But right now we want to hear from you!! — How do you think we can solve the driver shortage?? What do you think about catering specifically to millennial workers??