“We felt this was a great opportunity to add experienced, top talent to our fleet,” said U.S. Xpress recruiting director, Kendra Patton, of this time of pandemic.
U.S. Xpress was able to bring on more previously-furloughed drivers throughout the time of COVID-19, and is still continuing to do so–especially within the divisions of over-the-road drivers. This comes as an effort to meet high demand for grocery, retail, and consumer goods.
Many such carriers have been on-boarding the drivers furloughed by many other fleets, as the pandemic has brought about unprecedented employment efforts and recruitment methods.
“There was a smaller pool of companies actually continuing to hire, and yes, with the furloughs that took place, there was a slightly larger pool of applicants looking for their next opportunity,” said Grand Island Express vice president of operations, Deen Albert.
The larger potential selection of drivers seeking jobs is also filled with experienced commercial vehicle operators, giving fleets needing more truckers an opportunity to be pickier than usual in regards to their new employees.
DriverReach CEO, Jeremy Reymer, says this hiring situation is not unlike that of 2008’s recession.
“In many cases, there were a lot of really good drivers available as a result of that [recession],” he explained. “Through no fault of their own, they were out of work.”
For nearly a month-long period, highly talented and safe drivers were widely available, said Penske Logistics senior vice president of operations for dedicated contract carriage, Jeff Jackson.
Penske did indeed take advantage of this opportunity, although the company also laid off some of its drivers in areas with decreased demand, and even moved drivers to other sectors in need. Overall demand increase spiked much more quickly than was expected, Jackson said.
“Where we felt we had a surplus of drivers, it flipped to having to hire a lot of drivers again over the course of a couple of weeks,” he said.
Although many experienced drivers have been available for hire, fleets have been especially careful about who they bring onboard, said WorkHound CEO, Max Farrell.
“During this time, it isn’t just who can fill the truck. It is who is the right culture fit,” he said.
Still, a fleet’s main focus is safety, and bringing in veteran drivers helps boost that focus and get new employees on the road more quickly.
“Entry-level drivers, those with less than one year experience operating a [commercial motor vehicle] requiring a CDL, are subject to additional training requirements, and carriers often take special care to ensure they are as safe as possible,” explained CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, Dave Osiecki. “This training and on-boarding process adds time for new or less-experienced drivers.”
Grand Island Express’ Albert agreed, saying experienced truckers make on-boarding a much simpler process across the board.
“From a safety standpoint, we have some idea of the type of driver that they are,” he said. “From an efficiency standpoint, we know that they’ve been exposed to some of the technology used in the industry today. From a longevity standpoint, we know that experienced drivers understand the lifestyle of an OTR driver.”
Additionally, because COVID-19 has brought such a negative change in regards to job security, many trucking companies have also noticed higher overall driver retention rates.
“The broad job market is a little scary right now,” said Osiecki. “If you have a good driving job right now, you’re pretty happy, and most drivers are staying put.
Unemployment rates throughout the country increased to 14.7% in April, but fell back slightly to 11.1% in June. Staying put longer in a job is a natural effect of an uncertain job market, Osiecki explained.
“The grass may not be greener on the other side,” added Farrell, who explained that drivers are not likely to jump to another carrier, even if they had been considering it pre-pandemic.
Turnover rates have also dropped for both Penske and U.S. Express.
“Especially during the earlier days of COVID-19, uncertainty was greater, and more drivers decided to stay put in their current positions,” said Patton.
Jackson agreed, saying Penske’s turnover rate has decreased by 7%. “In 2019, our driver turnover was 29%. This year we’re trending at 23% through May.”
Additionally, trucking companies are often working to keep drivers at ease during these times by increasing communication efforts and staying mutually updated throughout the work day.
Penske, for example, implemented a communications strategy that utilizes both a COVID hotline and website for easier communication and question-asking.
“Drivers were not only concerned with COVID, but also with personal schedules that were in flux,” said Jackson. “From a [personal protective equipment] standpoint, we were ahead of pretty much every mandate with securing PPE. We also implemented temperature checks prior to the mandate. The drivers felt really good that we were putting this energy into it.”