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Driver-first culture is key

By Rob Hatchett, vice president of recruiting and communications

(Aug. 2018) I try my hardest to be a “realist”. I don’t want to be a pessimist or an optimist; I just want to be real.

As folks within the trucking and logistics industry have constantly talked about the driver shortage the past five years in every trade publication and at every trucking conference, it has frustrated me because many of my recruiting peers continued to report strong hiring numbers of both student and experienced drivers. My “real” hat felt like the industry was dramatizing this driver shortage issue.

But then 2017 happened. The economy started doing great and producing tons of new jobs which are now competing with trucking. Doom and gloom articles about the ELD issue and its impact were rampant, explaining how utilization would impact driver wages.

And fear of decreased federal funding for grants to get commercial driver licenses gripped the industry.

By quarter three of 2017, hiring numbers finally started to noticeably dip while turnover rates remained. The result of that is obviously a decrease in seated truck count.

And the driver shortage was finally “real” to me.

Warehousing, construction employment over ten years, Jan. 2008 to Jan. 2018

Source: United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Culture changes

What happened through the third and fourth quarters of 2017 was the re-imaging of many trucking companies.

The concept of being a “driver-first company” was going from a mere idea to something carriers realized they’d have to be in order to survive in a new, exceptionally competitive labor market.

Across America, these questions were being raised:

  • Do we need to change our freight network to be more driver-friendly?
  • Do we need to pay our drivers more? If so, where do we need to put this money?
  • How can we make our driving jobs be more attractive?

What resulted from these rounds of questioning was the amazing wave of driver pay increases which began in the fourth quarter of 2017, and which persisted through the second quarter of 2018. And upon inspection of the structures of many of these pay raises, it’s clear we – transportation and logistics employers – aren’t competing just against our fellow carriers, but also against jobs being produced in other industries thanks to a growing economy.

Covenant Transport Services hires first quarter 2017 through second quarter 2018

Source: Covenant Transport Services

As a result, on the transportation and logistics side, raises have been made in student pay; in base rate pay per-mile; in introducing minimums; in increases in detention pay; in enormous bonuses of various kinds; and in attempts at salary and hourly pay, which are growing nationwide. This is what professional drivers have deserved for years, and thankfully, it’s finally happening.

And while quarter three of 2017 was the moment fear kicked in for many carriers, quarter two of 2018 will be remembered as the time we realized our re-imaging and huge pay increases have paid off, and will continue to pay off for years to come.

Now in the middle of calendar year 2018, multiple carriers are reporting huge classes of experienced and student hires again.

But putting on my “real” hat, this doesn’t mean that we are overcoming the driver shortage – it just means we’re fighting back. That we’re fighting together as an industry. And that we’re fighting well.

We just can’t stop here, though. We as an industry have to make sure our “driver-first” hats are securely on our heads for the long haul.

Again, I try to be a realist. The driver shortage is now real.

But based on what we have achieved together over the past six months by moving closer to being a true driver-first industry, I think it’s also real to believe that we can overcome it.

Commentary by:

Rob Hatchett is vice president of recruiting and communications at Covenant Transport Services, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn. Covenant Transport Services employs more than 4,000 professional drivers across four companies, including: Covenant Transport of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Landair Transport, of Greeneville, Tenn.; Southern Refrigerated Transport of Texarkana, Ark.; and Star Transportation of La Vergne, Tenn. Hatchett was runner-up for Transport Topics’ Recruiting Professional of the Year in 2018. 

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