Addressing the Shortage of Qualified Intermodal Bulk Carrier Drivers

With each passing day, the strain of finding qualified intermodal bulk carrier drivers becomes more obvious in the bottom line for trucking companies around the country. An average age of 55 for U.S. commercial drivers and increased federal regulations are just two of a number of challenges to recruiting and retaining qualified drivers to stem the tide of shortages. Consequently, trucking companies that provide intermodal bulk carrier services are creating far reaching retention and recruitment plans for drivers as well as more strategic relationships with other intermodal transport providers.

Intermodal Freight Transportation- Intermodal Driver Shortage- Penn Leasing

As long haul trucking becomes more costly and problematic for trucking companies, many are relying more heavily on drayage relationships whereby they can provide the shorter haul trucking routes that link rail, water, and road. For truckers, this provides an attractive flexibility where they can alternate longer runs with those that can be completed in a day or two. For rail transport in particular, it provides cost-effective, strategic collaborative relationships with drayage carriers that fulfill “last mile” needs while boosting the bottom line of these trucking companies.

Recruitment and retention is being stepped up by many trucking companies with extensive onboarding strategies for better driver/company relationships. Not only do these onboarding programs significantly reduce the learning curve of new drivers, they can significantly increase the time they spend with the company.

This was shown in a recent issue of FleetOwner Magazine, where trucking industry consulting firm Trincon held a webinar for trucking CEOs and cited research by the Aberdeen Group. This research showed that 69 percent of onboarding program new drivers stay with their employers for a minimum of three years or more.

The American Trucking Associations reports annual turnover at greater than 90 percent, in 2013, which translates to drivers staying an average of one year with an employer. By these standards, the onboarding program that keeps drivers for an average of three years or more is increasing their driver retention time by as much as 60 percent or more.

While close relationships with accredited driver training schools is imperative, trucking companies are finding other recruitment methods and incentives that are equally effective. These include finding ways to help driver candidates pay for training by reimbursing driving school tuition, which can run up to $5,000. Many trucking companies like Schneider and ATA among many others are also beginning to offer referral bonuses for existing drivers rather than signing bonuses to simultaneously boost driver retention and qualified recruitment efforts.

These efforts dovetail into career path development for drivers with measurable pay increases, ongoing training, and the ability to shift into different job functions within a trucking company. This can range from administration, clerical, accounts, stores management and others with companies that offer logistics services to specialized services like oversize loads, dispatcher, load manager, driver manager, operations manager, safety manager, owner operator, fleet owner, and many more. In addition, healthcare benefits and retirement plans, vacation time, and home time are important incentives that are becoming more prominent aspects of recruitment/retention plans.

Of course, establishing defined goals works both ways. Stringent driver screening is a major part of successful recruitment that goes beyond passing a DOT physical and drug screen as well as valid CDL Class A license and verifiable driving experience. Having stronger psychological evaluations that match the prospective driver to the real requirements and potential stresses of the job are helping companies find better matches that lead to longer employee/employer relationships.

All of these incentives, plans, and practices will go a long way to stemming the tide for many trucking companies seeking qualified intermodal bulk carrier drivers. The bigger picture of driver deficits will however, continue to be a pernicious problem that will require further changes in the recruitment and retention process for America’s trucking companies.

April Uhlenburg
April U

April has been working with Penn Intermodal’s Sales and Operations teams to educate clients on the benefits of leasing chassis for bulk liquid storage and transport since 2012.