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September 13, 2018 12:00 PM, EDT

Benefits Again on the Rise as Carriers Seek to Bolster Workforce

U.S. Xpress, Walmart Try Scholarships, Recruitment Incentives to Woo New Drivers
U.S. Xpress reefer in front of company HQ U.S. Xpress Enterprises, which launched a scholarship program, is among the carriers trying to bolster driver ranks by using novel incentives in their recruitment efforts. (TT File Photo)

Wages and bonuses for drivers aren’t the only incentives that are increasing as the trucking industry tries to keep up with the demands of a strong economy and a driver shortage, estimated to be at least 50,000 and expected to grow.

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress Enterprises announced Sept. 10 that it launched the “Full Ride” program, in which the company will provide full college scholarships to drivers and family members, ages 17 to 26, to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Ashford University, an online educational institution based in San Diego, will run the program.

BATTLE FOR DRIVERS: Walmart doubles spending on recruitment and retention

“We believe the Full Ride program will attract people to our industry who may have not previously thought about driving a truck.” U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller said. “If your goal is to get an education without racking up debt, we can offer you a means to accomplish that goal. If you want a degree but are not interested in sitting in a classroom all day, we offer you the opportunity to see the country while completing your studies.”

U.S. Xpress ranks No. 21 on the Transport Topics list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Unlike many other reimbursement programs, the carrier said students will have all of their costs paid upfront directly to the university instead of being reimbursed after completing the coursework.

“The university’s online model, flexible class format and relevant degree program fit well with the unique needs and schedules of transportation professionals,” Ashford University CEO Craig Swenson said.

U.S. Xpress’ announcement comes as numerous trucking companies have announced significant pay, bonus and benefit increases to recruit and hold drivers.

“It doesn’t surprise me to hear this news at all. Carriers are getting really creative with incentives and ways they can attract drivers,” Priscilla Peters, Conversion Interactive Agency vice president of training and marketing, told Transport Topics. “I think a lot of carriers are looking at what are some new and innovative ways we can attract drivers and getting them to fill the trucks we need to fill today.”

Walmart distribution center

Trailers are moved at a Walmart distribution center. Walmart will double its spending on driver recruitment and increase referral bonuses among other strategies to lure potential drivers. (George Frey/Bloomberg News)

On Sept. 10, Walmart Inc. announced plans to double its spending on driver recruitment, increasing its referral bonuses, shortening the onboarding process for new hires and launching a TV ad campaign to let potential drivers know what the company is offering. Walmart only recruits drivers with at least 30 months experience during the prior 36 months. Still, new hires can earn about $86,000 annually. The company’s turnover rate traditionally has been among the lowest in the industry, at about 7%, but the average age of its drivers is 55.

Walmart, which has about 6,500 trucks, ranks No. 3 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.

“Fleets are so desperate to find good, quality drivers that they have to get very creative in recruitment and retention tactics,” American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “Increasing pay is the natural market reaction to any shortage, which is happening for drivers, but fleets are also trying to distinguish themselves from other carriers in this most competitive market. In the end, quality, responsible drivers win with lots of options to choose from.”

It is not just drivers that are in demand in the trucking industry. Transervice Logistics Inc. a Lake Success, N.Y.-based logistics, fleet leasing and maintenance company, said Sept. 5 it is offering an educational assistance program for technicians to cover tuition, fees, books and supplies. To qualify, the applicant must be enrolled in an accredited diesel technology or automotive school or a community college, or have completed his or her technical education within 24 months of being hired.

ATA is proud to be part of this effort to provide enhanced career opportunities to hardworking Americans.

ATA President Chris Spear

Chris Spear

In July, ATA announced it would take part in an industry program to address the driver and technician shortage. The plan calls for the industry to provide at least 10,000 enhanced career opportunities annually for the next five years. It is part of a larger plan by the Trump administration to improve career opportunities for 500,000 Americans.

“ATA is proud to be part of this effort to provide enhanced career opportunities to hardworking Americans,” President Chris Spear said. “Our nation’s economy depends on our trucks moving goods from ports, factories and farms to stores and homes — and we depend on the millions of men and women who drive those trucks, maintain those trucks, load and unload those trucks and route those trucks.”