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February 22, 2016 3:30 AM, EST

Social Media, Big Data Are Influential Tools for Recruitment, Retention of Truck Drivers

This story appears in the Feb. 22 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Enhanced social media presence and expanded use of big data analytics are two critical tactics for carriers seeking to solve the ongoing problem of the driver shortage, experts at a conference here on recruitment and retention said last week.

Facebook has turned into an ideal platform for recruiters searching for drivers who would be suitable candidates to work at their companies, said Leah Schultz, social media manager at Papa John’s International. The pizza maker’s nationwide reach has led to an expansion of its private fleet presence along highways.

“Understanding where these drivers are on Facebook and social media, what they’re talking about, what their interests are and how to appeal to them in ways, and being able to do content marketing” is critically important, Schultz said at the 13th annual Recruitment and Retention Conference. The Feb. 10-12 event was co-sponsored by Transport Topics and Conversion Interactive Agency.

Facebook also is helpful for retaining drivers by allowing managers to create online groups for their teams so they may interact and build rapport outside of work. Blogs, videos and multimedia presentations also are vital tools carriers may incorporate to recruit drivers. Videos have strong appeal among drivers, especially when a they are carefully done and between 15 and 30 seconds long, she said.

“The value of a one-minute video is actually equivalent to 1.8 million words of text. That’s pretty powerful,” Schultz said, adding that carriers need to develop their brands and drive them from the top down. Fleet managers who are reluctant to embrace online media will lose out, she said.

After Facebook, websites such as Twitter and LinkedIn are useful platforms for connecting with prospective drivers, Schultz added.

Segments of trucking have faced a shortage of drivers for years, and an aging workforce has carriers worried about falling way short over the next decade, a recent report from the American Transportation Research Institute said.

Lori Furnell, vice president of business development with Conversion Interactive Agency, agreed with Schultz about the role of social media.

“The information age, and the onset of job boards . . . that changed the way we communicate. It gave us all of this access to all of these leads,” she said.

Dave Manning, president of Nashville-based TCW Inc., attended the conference to stress the importance of improving the industry’s image as a way to entice people to become drivers. Manning is second vice chairman at American Trucking Associations.

In addition to social media, trucking companies must expand their online training, as well as the use of “big data” as ways to retain drivers, other experts said.

Massive pools of data can assist with retention and management of drivers, and companies that use this are ahead of the curve, said Walter Grigg, vice president of strategic development for the Lawrence Cos.

“It’s actually very simple. It’s simply understanding what information you need, what information you’re creating and gaining access to it. There can be some complexities in doing it, but it’s not that difficult,” Grigg said.

Mark Shaver, vice president of the National Transportation Institute, noted that big data also may be used to measure driver performance on fuel economy, safety and in determining salaries and bonuses.

Information sources for trucking include truck, trailer and engine sensor data, regular employee surveys and evaluations and safety inspections that are the basis of federal Comprehensive, Safety, Accountability scores.

A few large fleets are taking the step of using big data to create predictive modeling. Such analysis allows fleets not only to identify the drivers likely to be involved in crashes, but those drivers most likely to leave. Equipped with that information, Shaver said, managers would be better able to address concerns with drivers.

Shaver’s firm, based in Hudson, Wisconsin, provides truckload carriers with data analysis.

Grigg said this is not limited to big companies.

“Even for a smaller carrier, if you’re looking at even a handful of trucks, what information do you need, what information you’re creating, and how can you gain access to it, how can you use it,” he asked of the audience.

Driver pay plays a key role in recruitment and retention, but it is not the only factor. Employers still must improve the way they develop their team of drivers, said Rob Hatchett, vice president of recruiting at Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Covenant Transportation Group.

If recruiters encourage high expectations among their new employees, drivers whose expectations are not met will leave soon after starting their jobs, Hatchett warned.

“It’s important to realize we’re all different, and there’s no right or wrong way to structure yourself. I think the key is being able to stand up and say here’s why we do it this way,” Hatchett said. “Just note, everybody is different.”

Covenant ranks No. 46 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.