Recruiting, Retaining Next-Generation Drivers a Challenge

Speakers Address Safety, Security, Human Resources Conference
Jason Wing (from left), Mike Pelaez, Joanna Cornell and Perry Moser
Jason Wing (from left), Mike Pelaez, Joanna Cornell and Perry Moser. (SunJae Smith/American Trucking Associations)

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MINNEAPOLIS — The next generation of truck drivers could help fill some of the nettlesome driver shortage, but recruiting and retaining younger drivers won’t be easy, according to a panel of trucking safety executives.

Panel members speaking at a session of the 2023 Safety, Security, Human Resources National Conference & Exhibition on April 4 suggested attempts to fill the current shortage of 78,000 drivers will require some changes in leadership strategies and a better job selling technology to gain the interest of younger men and women.

“Experts expect that number to more than double by 2031,” said panel moderator Jeff Martin, vice president of global sales for Lytx. “Thus, the need to recruit and retain members of this workforce continues to be a top priority for most trucking organizations. But companies are in fact challenged with developing programs to not only attract new drivers and coaching tools, but to help advance careers and retain current team members.”

“I think we’ll continue to have this problem as long as we continue to just hire each others’ drivers,” said Jason Wing, vice president of safety and transportation operations for Red Classic. “This problem will persist; it’s only going to get worse as we continue to hire from the same pool of drivers.”

“I heard someone respectfully say the other day we’re just horse trading at the end of the day,” Martin added.

Joanna Cornell, director of global freight safety at UPS, said with the average age of drivers reaching about 55, carriers need to leverage technology to attract younger drivers and women.

Joanna Cornell

"I think we're missing an opportunity with women," says Joanna Cornell. (SunJae Smith/American Trucking Associations) 

“I think we’re missing an opportunity with women, who make up 47% of the workforce, and only about 6% of them are drivers,” Cornell said. “So I think we have some opportunity to try and make that job not so much a macho man job, but make it more enticing for a female to want to engage in.”

Mike Pelaez, vice president of safety and compliance at Airgas, said carriers need to find ways to recruit young people during the gap between high school and college. “We have to reinvent ourselves as far as finding 19- or 20-year-olds, especially for hazmat,” Pelaez said.

Wing said younger potential drivers live in “a very sophisticated digitized technology world,” and then they come into an industry and drive a truck and “may be passing paper back and forth and doing things in a manual way” for a small carrier that may not have the resources to be more technologically sophisticated.

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“When I first started trucking we threw the keys at somebody and said, ‘call me from your first stop, and let me know if you have a problem,’ ” said Perry Moser, vice president of driver safety and success for CRST, the Transportation Solution Inc. “Now, I think the approach for onboarding is continuous education and you provide value through learning.”

“When you think about this generation of drivers that we’re all seeking to bind, they’re different,” Wing said. “They have a different outlook on what a job is. It’s driving a truck, but they still want to do it from 8 to 4:30 from Monday through Friday. They may not take feedback or criticism as well as what you did maybe when you grew up in the industry.”