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February 21, 2020 11:15 AM, EST

Experts: Fleets Can Boost Recruiting by Supporting Student Drivers, Veterans

Don Lefeve (from left), Tim Norlin and Randy Dye talked about ways fleets can attract and support entry-level drivers and veterans. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Truck driving students and military veterans are two key pipelines for bolstering the industry’s driver workforce, but fleets must take proper steps to effectively attract and support them, experts said.

All motor carriers, regardless of whether they hire entry-level drivers, have a stake in ensuring the success of new entrants to the industry, said Don Lefeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.

“If we don’t have entry-level drivers, those who only hire experienced drivers won’t have a workforce in several years,” he said Feb. 20 at Conversion Interactive Agency’s annual Recruitment & Retention Conference.

Military veteran driving an Averitt Express truck

A military veteran drives an Averitt Express truck. (Averitt Express)

While the competition to recruit student truck drivers is tight, fleets can boost their success through good pay and benefits, as well as perks such as tuition reimbursement.

“If you are reimbursing the student, that is a huge benefit,” Lefeve said. “That’s a reason why many students stay at their current carrier.”

Establishing a “finishing school” to provide further training for new recruits is another key to success.

“They’re not 10-year veterans. They need to learn the industry,” Lefeve said. “Yes, they passed the CDL exam. But they still need further maturation. And we need good mentors in the industry.”

Recruiters also should demonstrate that they are invested in the student’s long-term success in the trucking industry, he said. That may mean encouraging a new driver to stay in the industry, even if their own fleets are not the right fit.

To attract veteran drivers, fleets can start by recognizing the members of their current staff that have served in the military, said Randy Dye, president of Veterans in Trucking.

Randy Dye

Dye

Fleets can become more “veteran ready” by training their recruiters and human resources departments on how to interview veterans and better understand the military language and ranks on their résumés.

Companies also can make inroads by creating a specific webpage or microsite that speaks directly to the military community.

At the same time, it’s important for companies to understand and implement the various incentive programs that governments at the federal, state and local levels have put in place for employers that commit to hiring veterans.

Ultimately, adding more veteran drivers to a fleet can provide a return on investment by decreasing driver turnover, increasing performance and qualifying for federal and state tax credits, Dye said. “It’s good business to hire veterans. Period.”

Meanwhile, the driver recruiting landscape has changed with the rise of the internet and social media.

Roehl Transport changed its recruiting strategy to reflect that new reality, said Tim Norlin, the company’s vice president of driver employment.

Host Seth Clevenger went to CES 2020 in Las Vegas and met with Rich Mohr of Ryder Fleet Management Solutions and Stephan Olsen of the Paccar Innovation Center to discuss how high-tech the industry has become. Listen to a snippet above, and to hear the full episode, go to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

Historically, the fleet worked closely with driver training schools to find new recruits, but the expenses associated with contract training, school referral fees and tuition reimbursement meant that the cost of hiring a student driver was double that of hiring an experienced driver.

Furthermore, as the driver market tightened, visits to schools by Roehl’s field recruiters ceased to provide the same returns that they once did.

“That hurt us tremendously,” Norlin said. “We weren’t able to grow our fleet and keep our trucks filled because that pipeline of student drivers that we depended on was drying up.”

As a result, Roehl shifted to a new strategy. Instead of sending field recruiters to schools, the company targeted students online while they were searching for job opportunities.

The fleet’s in-house recruiters embraced search-engine marketing and optimization to engage those students on social media.

Now Roehl is hiring more students from a longer list of schools, and the cost of hiring students has been cut in half as a result of this new recruiting model, Norlin said.

Roehl, based in Marshfield, Wis., ranks No. 76 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America. The company’s fleet of about 2,000 tractors delivers dry van, flatbed and refrigerated freight.

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