Covenant’s Duncan Named Recruiter of the Year

Panelists at Recruitment and Retention Conference Stress Developing Talent From Within
Matthew Duncan
"Drivers want a career path, and we want them to tell us what their needs are so we can develop them," says Matthew Duncan of Covenant Logistics. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Matthew Duncan of Covenant Logistics was named the 2023 Transport Topics Recruiting Professional of the Year.

An industry veteran for more than 15 years, Duncan is vice president of enterprise driver recruiting and talent acquisition for the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company. He was presented the award Feb. 22 at the Recruiting and Retention Conference hosted by Conversion Interactive Agency and Professional Driver Agency.

Duncan was joined by finalists Nonna Ruiz, talent acquisition manager at Sherwin-Williams, and Sarah Kate Robison, director of recruiting at Ozark Motor Lines, a privately held, Memphis, Tenn.-based carrier with more than 700 tractors and 2,250 trailers.

“I am very grateful for this award; Nonna and Sarah Kate are great recruiters, and I’m honored,” Duncan said after being presented the award.

Nonna Ruiz

Recruiting Professional of the Year finalist Noona Ruiz of Sherwin-Williams. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics) 

Before the presentation, Duncan, Ruiz and Robison sat down for a discussion on the state of recruiting at a time when some companies are scaling back because of concerns over the freight recession and a downturn in cargo.

“For us, we had some acquisitions that have taken place, and in 2023, the keyword for us has been ‘pivot,’ and we had to trust the team that we had in place to do all of that, and that’s how we handled the challenges,” Duncan said. “Our retention for drivers in 2023 was about 40% better than it was in 2022.”

All three panelists said that with the cost of recruiting estimated to be at least $10,000 per driver — from outreach to eventual hiring — it is much less expensive for a company’s bottom line to hang on to drivers and also develop talent from within..

“We were very blessed to have a record-breaking year in terms of driver hiring. We actually had to put a cap on hiring, which is very hard to do to recruiters; it’s hard to scale back,” Robison said. “We had a really good year, and for 2024, we’re looking to have a good year.”

Sarah Kate Robison

Recruiting Professinal of the Year finalist Sarah Kate Robison of Ozark Motor Lines. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics) 

Duncan added, “Last year, it was a shift from getting as many people in the door as we could to keeping the ones we already had. Drivers want a career path, and we want them to tell us what their needs are so we can develop them and keep them as part of the organization instead of them going somewhere else.”

As a private trucking fleet, Sherwin-Williams saw a boom from 2020 to 2023 as consumers spent hundreds of millions of dollars on home improvement projects.

Ruiz told the panel the Cleveland paint company spent the past year ramping up recruiting efforts, preparing for when freight increases and more drivers will be needed.

“So we expanded our driver training program to create that career path for our delivery drivers this past year so they can come into our fleet,” she said. “We sent many to trucking school that we paid for, and then we put them through our training program, and we graduate them into full-time drivers and create another pathway to develop talent.”


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The panelists said recruiters also have changed their mindset. Instead of getting drivers to shift from one company to another, it is more important to grow the pool of potential drivers. That means reaching out to young people interested in trucking, talking with people in traditionally underserved communities, reaching out to drivers in other countries who want to live and work in the U.S. and encouraging military members who are transitioning to civilian life.

“We need to partner with schools and get the word out and help people understand there are opportunities in trucking; it’s all about education, and it’s going to take all of us to do this,” Duncan said. “Many times, you must have the right person in the school who understands the value of trucking. You have to have the people in the school helping you.”

Ozark’s Robison said as a company that offers regional, intermodal and over-the-road trucking positions, there is enough diversity to attract quality candidates.

“The term professional truck driver needs to be used much more,” she said. “The high schools and colleges need to know that professional truck drivers are making an excellent wage, with good benefits and a career path. COVID did us a favor, showing that drivers, like doctors, nurses and others, are essential and you can have a lifetime career.”

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