Buoyed by a host of factors, including an aging workforce, growing regulations and freight demand, the national driver shortage continues to dominate industry discussions. The American Trucking Associations estimates that the number of unfilled positions will exceed more than 176,000 unfilled positions by 2026.
For shippers, a driver shortage means that freight capacity becomes harder to come by and rates inevitably rise. To illustrate the impact, nearly 1 in 5 respondents in our 2018 State of the North American Supply Chain Survey said they had experienced issues with capacity in 2017. Overall, the issue had nearly doubled in comparison to 2016.
To be frank, there is no quick-fix solution to the driver shortage. The staggering hole of unfilled positions will not disappear overnight. However, carriers can take steps to mitigate the fallout in order to improve hiring and retention.
How Averitt Express Is Tackling The Driver Shortage
Like most carriers, Averitt has experienced the impact of the driver shortage. At the same time, our approach to the challenge of hiring and retention has evolved. We believe that our initiatives are achieving positive results that improve the work life of our drivers and our ability to serve shippers.
Our approach includes four primary points: Listen. Communicate. Nurture. Grow.
Foremost, the foundation of our strategy is built upon listening to our drivers and associates. Instituting an open door policy, however, is not as easy in the trucking industry as a typical office environment. Aside from traditional email, social media and phone call communications, we're fortunate enough to have tools that can help bridge the listening gap between our drivers and leadership.
- New Hire Feedback Surveys: Whenever a driver joins Averitt, we engage them within the first few weeks on the job to evaluate their experience up to that point. The responses provide us with an overview of how we can become more welcoming and accommodating to new associates.
- Associate Open line: No matter what industry you're in, sometimes telling a leader what you really want to can be intimidating. To provide our drivers with a safe and anonymous tool to communicate online, we maintain a confidential phone number as well as secure messaging system on our associate-facing website. This ensures that leadership receives the constructive criticism they need to make the company better.
- Driver Advisory Council: Several years ago, we formed a group consisting of drivers that meet on a regular basis to discuss the sentiments and experiences shared by our associates out on the road. Since they experience the job firsthand and work closely with other drivers, their knowledge is imperative in helping to steer Averitt in the right direction.
In the trucking industry, it can be a quick and easy process for a driver to become disassociated from his or her carrier. Long periods of time out on the road coupled with sparse interaction with coworkers can create a sense of isolation from the rest of the team. To navigate this divide, Averitt uses a variety of communication channels to keep drivers informed and in the fold.
- Associate App And Website: With today's growing number of smartphone users and increasing access to the web, having a website and app has been a clear step forward in keeping our drivers informed. They can find a wealth of information, including company news, benefits and contact information through these tools. Additionally, the app includes load assignments and a chat feature so that drivers can communicate with their dispatcher.
- Regular Content: Having a website is fine and all, but if the content is never updated the audience will stop caring. To keep our drivers informed on industry topics, and associate and company news, we send drivers a weekly email newsletter. We also produce a larger monthly publication in both print and online formats for all associates. This keeps our drivers and their families in the Averitt loop.
- Driver Podcast: While our associates can't read all of our communications while behind the wheel, we do offer an audio podcast that is directed to our long haul drivers. Hosted by our operations leadership, this regular show features guests, including drivers, and focuses on company and industry topics.
The third pillar of our strategy is built around taking steps to improve life on the job for our drivers. This includes providing access to amenities that many people may take for granted in their everyday home life. Additionally, we are constantly looking for methods and tools to simplify repetitive and menial tasks that drivers handle. Through these steps, we can help nurture a better day-to-day lifestyle for our drivers.
- Driver Support Centers: To give our drivers a bit of relaxation and some of the comforts of home, we've developed Driver Support Centers at numerous locations within our network. These facilities feature a variety of amenities, including washers and dryers, showers, wireless internet, gyms, televisions and lounging chairs. Additionally, these locations include a Driver Concierge that is available to help associates with any need or question they may have.
- Modern Trucks And Equipment: One of the worst things that can happen to a new driver is for his or her truck to break down as soon as they get it. At Averitt, we keep our fleet powered by modern trucks and employ hundreds of mechanics at shops throughout our network. Our newest trucks also come equipped with refrigerators and satellite radio to make life on the road a bit more comfortable.
- Protecting Our Associates: Operating heavy machinery, especially among the general public, does not come without inherent risks. To reduce the dangers associated with driving, Averitt has invested heavily into safety technologies. From collision-avoidance and lane-departure systems to forward-facing event recorders, our trucks are outfitted with numerous safety add-on features. The sole purpose of these investments is to protect the lives of our drivers and to ensure their reputation.
Taking steps to protect drivers through safety technologies and training is another important aspect of improving life on the road. Learn more about Averitt's focus on safety.
- Streamlining Processes: Another aspect of nurturing our drivers by finding ways to improve their daily life includes minimizing the time and effort spent on time-consuming tasks. For instance, we utilize the Cat Scale app to reduce the time it takes to scale a load. Additionally, we've worked with drivers to develop a workflow that has eliminated numerous macros that have helped to simplify communication with fleet managers.
Beyond finding ways to improve the daily life of our drivers, our final focus is to help them grow both professionally and personally. And aside from recent increases in pay, we believe it's also important to set goals and to receive appreciation for a job well done.
- Training And Mentors: At Averitt, we ensure that our drivers have received proper training before they get behind the wheel for a customer. From our multi-day orientation at our corporate campus to our backing school program for new drivers, we want our drivers to have all of the confidence they need to succeed on the road. Additionally, our driver mentor program partners new recruits with veteran drivers. This helps build lasting friendships for newer drivers that can reach out to their mentor to talk on a personal level or to just ask questions about the job.
- Rewards Program: To thank and encourage our drivers for their hard work and safe driving, Averitt utilizes a rewards program when certain goals and criteria are met. Upon meeting a goal, the associate receives a number of points that can be redeemed through our online store on a variety of goods, including grills, televisions, and even cruises.
- Driver Referrals: We've learned that the best way to find reliable and qualified drivers is through the driver community itself. They meet each other on the road and develop long-lasting friendships. To that end, we encourage our drivers and all associates to refer others to open positions with Averitt. The rewards for getting a candidate hired can range anywhere from $500 all the way to $2,750 for a truckload driver.
- Career Development And Promotions: The wheels of the trucking industry never quit moving forward, and we believe that should also be the case for a driver's career. At Averitt, we encourage our drivers to grow within the company. In 2018, alone, dozens of associates have been promoted to leadership roles at local service centers and even at our corporate office. We also offer our truckload drivers ample opportunities to transition to local and dedicated routes. Today, a large portion of our leadership consists of individuals that were once drivers or dock workers. With their experience in the field, they bring an invaluable understanding of the business to both our company and customers.
Through the four points of our overall hiring and retention strategy, we aim to make Averitt a carrier of choice for drivers. They are the backbone of everything we do. By listening to them and working towards a common goal, we can achieve great things together.