In 2020’s third quarter, the US economy began to slowly but surely recover from the impact of COVID-19. The trucking industry followed suit, with emerging trends and challenges alike. According to figures from the American Trucking Association (ATA), trucker turnover rates increased but remained behind those of 2019. As such, various businesses now seek to improve driver retention and retain top talent as the economy bounces.
A closer look at turnover rates
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello observed “a tightening of the driver market,” and attributed the increased turnover to “a more robust freight market [and] an increase in carriers seeking drivers[.]” Additionally, he noted that “the driver pool has decreased this year for a host of reasons”, including social distancing requirements hampering driver training. In this regard, the following observations bear significance:
● In Q2, the turnover rate fell to 82% at large carriers and to 60% at smaller carriers.
● By Q3, the turnover rate at large carriers had increased to 92% and to 74% at smaller carriers.
● Despite the increases, the annual turnover rate for 2020 remained behind 2019.
Of course, such statistics may indicate a slow, steady recovery. Indeed, Costello notes that “ironically, turnover bouncing back is a good sign for the economy and for trucking”. However, such turnover rates leave many individual businesses to seek improved driver retention practices to remain competitive.
Enhancing driver engagement
Turnover rates aside, improving driver retention and retaining top talent remains a constant priority for many businesses. High turnover rates have been a traditional factor in this industry, as the statistics mentioned above show. Thus, in this pursuit, USA Truck adopted Trucker Tools’ Smart Capacity platform in December 2020. This move arguably highlights the need for enhanced driver engagement and real-time management. However, technology is but one asset in this effort.
We may identify a similarly worrying trend related to retention in increasingly deteriorating driver safety. Just this year, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released a report that proposes legislative solutions to tackle this. They specifically noted that “in addition to advancing state laws […], verified vehicle safety technologies can prevent and mitigate numerous crashes”. This trend may be addressed by both legislation and technology, but it also affects driver retention quite significantly.
How to improve driver retention and retain top talent
Technology aside, businesses employ various tactics to help improve driver retention and retain top talent. While there are numerous, and the effectiveness of many will depend on one’s size, scope, and budget, six are recurring.
#1 Promote safety
Among other workplace factors, driver retention hinges on safety. 2020 saw a 40% increase in drug and alcohol violations by truck drivers, highlighting a worrying trend. Such concerns from drivers may both increase turnover and reduce new hires.
In terms of engagement, the responsibility of promoting a culture of safety lies with fleet leaders. Coaching drivers and integrating safety into one’s culture can be extremely beneficial in this regard. Furthermore, Fleet management software (FMS) can help provide behavior monitoring for precise, accurate coaching.
#2 Establish clear communication channels
On the subject of internal culture, communication is a fundamental pillar of coaching and team-building. Technology can provide clear, actionable insights, but driver feedback can be equally valuable.
In this regard, establishing communication channels has been repeatedly found to assist with team-building. To improve driver retention and retain top talent in general, many businesses opt for two-way communication that feedback fuels. Peer input can be processed by assigned committees, should fleet size demand it, allowing for internal cohesion. In turn, as a product of long-term effort, this kind of culture can increase retention and improve driver efficiency.
#3 Provide ongoing education
Similarly, workers from all fields highly value employee development and education. According to research by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), professional development programs are among the most powerful retention tools.
From a psychological standpoint, this arguably stems from a perceived appreciation for improvement and helps incite personal investment. However, such programs have very practical effects as well; a trained workforce is much more capable of tackling challenges. Thus, businesses that seek to improve driver retention and retain top talent may often choose to invest in such programs.
#4 Reward performance
Naturally, rewarding performance is among the safest options in this pursuit. Indeed, Bloomberg reported that “10% raises are the antidote to the truck-driver shortage”, citing J.B. Hunt Transport Services. However, a clear path to promotions and raises aside, a simple feeling of being appreciated can improve driver retention rates.
A culture of recognition of excellence can facilitate this. Fleet managers can monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and individual performance analytics through FMS solutions to deliver recognition. Data-driven observations like safe miles driven and positive customer reviews, as well as careful driving and minimal idling, can incentivize drivers to strive for excellence.
#5 Provide benefits
Along similar lines, benefits are high among the factors that can increase employee retention. Benefits will naturally vary by industry, budget, and other factors, but the CTA data mentioned above supports such endeavors.
Benefits that employees value most highly, and thus reduce turnover, typically include the following:
● Health insurance and life insurance
● Retirement plans
● Bonuses and raises
Furthermore, according to Dan Pickett, CEO of Nfrastructure, benefits can safely extend beyond healthcare and sick leave. He claims that further financial incentives, such as the above, can similarly boost retention and incentivize lower turnover rates.
#6 Employ technology
Finally, all of the aforementioned practices continue to be facilitated by technology. Technology-driven driver safety programs are an excellent example of how innovative technologies can help foster a welcoming environment and build trust between drivers and coaches.
Perhaps most notably in this context, FMS solutions have also advanced rapidly in the past years. Through telematics, FMS solutions can provide actionable data to fleet managers to help inform decisions. Whether it’s specific KPIs or individual monitoring analytics, FMS, in conjunction with legacy assets, can open new frontiers. Fleet management increasingly focuses on driver health, safety, behavior, and documentation, and can thus be an invaluable ally toward retention.