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August 25, 2015 12:31 PM, EDT

Top 100 Private Carriers Widen Search for Drivers

Russ MacNeil
Private carriers are getting creative with recruitment and training as tight capacity and the persistent shortage of qualified candidates are forcing shipper-owned carriers to grapple with a relatively new problem for them: finding drivers.

For some, the problem is so severe that it is stalling efforts to expand in-house trucking operations.

“We are trying to innovate with our driver position,” said Paul Mugerditchian, president of Dot Transportation Inc., which operates 1,190 tractors and 1,835 trailers for Dot Foods in Mount Sterling, Illinois. Dot Foods ranks No. 29 on the 2015 Top 100 list of largest private carriers in North America. (2015 TT Top 100Table form)

“We are trying to provide more set schedules and more certainty in their home time. We are promoting jobs where drivers work four days on and four days off. We have always hired student drivers and continue to finish them after hire. We also aggressively hire drivers from our existing warehouse groups in all our locations.”

In July, Dot Foods contributed $57,000 to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology to start an evening truck-driving school program in Newbern.

Dot Foods, which operates a distribution center in nearby Dyersburg, pledged to hire at least 55 graduates of the program and guarantee first-year earnings of $55,000. The company also will pay school-related fees for the first 10 student drivers it hires from the program.

At Perdue Farms Inc., fleet safety director Tommy Pollard is turning his attention to the 19,000 employees who work in the company’s poultry farms and processing plants to find people who might want to drive one of the 684 tractors in No. 48 Perdue’s fleet.

“Some of these associates go somewhere else to drive anyway,” Pollard noted.

While private fleets tend to hire only experienced drivers, many firms are ramping up training activities to ensure that drivers get the kind of specialized skills needed to operate in urban settings or to handle hazardous cargoes.

“Our business requires drivers who can operate in highly congested urban environments,” said Ed Pritchard, senior vice president at Silver Eagle Distributors in Houston.

“There is a great deal of physical effort required to get our products inside the store,” Pritchard said. “With the number of driving jobs available . . . we are struggling just like everyone else to keep the seats filled with good people.”

At Gemini Motor Transport, the private fuel-hauling fleet of No. 58 Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores, based in Oklahoma City, candidates are scrutinized for everything from personal appearance and how they handle themselves in the job interview to previous work history, said Brent Bergevin, the company’s vice president of transportation.

Experienced new hires spend about two weeks driving with a trainer, and recent driving school graduates might spend six to eight weeks on the road with a trainer while being paid $1,000 a week, he said.

“We’re going to spend upward of $20,000 training a guy before he loads his first paying load,” Bergevin said.

Paul Mennard , director of fleet operations at No. 78 Pepsi Bottling Ventures in Raleigh, North Carolina, is targeting veterans from nearby military basis as a source of drivers and also is searching for service technicians by offering part-time work for students at local technical schools.

“We are starting to bring students on board . . . to expose them to real-life technician work,” Mennard said. “Our hope is that they develop well and when they graduate they come on board full time.”