Hiring and retaining drivers in the trucking industry can be a tricky business. It can be even more difficult to hire and retain over the road (OTR) drivers because you want these drivers to be the best in your fleet. OTR driving represents the most challenging type of driver work, so you want to hire and retain the cream of the crop for this elite cadre. Since it can be a challenge to fill these jobs, you’ll want to think about smart methods to retain them and reduce turnover as well. Here are five tips on how to hire and retain OTR drivers.
1. What to look for
As we have written about before, good hiring starts with narrowing the candidate pool to those who are the best fit for the job.
There’s no doubt about it: OTR drivers are the best in the business and their work is more challenging than local runs in many ways.
You should look for strong behavioral characteristics that will predict reliability, flexibility, and communication in your talent pool. Yes, these are good attributes for any driver in your fleet, but they suit the OTR job particularly well. Look for someone with strong independence and ability to manage and maintain their own workload and commitments with ease. Demonstration of organizational skills, and the ability to adapt to quickly changing situations is a plus.
Good communication skills are essential, as OTR drivers will be coordinating with fleet managers, dispatchers, and reps from shippers and receivers. Attention to detail is another must, since drivers need to be responsible for reporting their logs with accuracy and consistency. Finally, a knack for learning new skills is especially useful for OTR drivers. Remember, they may have to adapt to quick changes and be adept at mechanical troubleshooting and working with new technology and equipment.
2. How to conduct the interview
If you’re interviewing a candidate, they have already passed your first round of evaluation for the job. Clearly, they possess the minimum qualifications and experience, and display some interest for your fleet and the OTR job. During the in-person interview, it’s your job to ascertain whether they are well suited for the OTR runs, or just the other local runs in your fleet. You can start by learning more about their personality and character. Look for the attributes detailed above and ask about specific instances or experiences where they demonstrated those traits.
Apart from the typical behavioral interview, you can also mix it up a bit. You can ask about how they would react in hypothetical situations or what they liked or disliked about previous jobs.
Having an open conversation about career goals, work-life balance, and home-time is incredibly important.
Remember that you’re trying to determine fit and maximize retention. Maybe this candidate isn’t the best for this job if they’re about to start a family, or if they’re looking to move on to a different fleet in just a few months. Consider inviting the driver’s partner or spouse to the interview to discuss important topics openly. Don’t forget to ask about issues which especially impact OTR drivers, like equipment breakdowns or real-time monitoring.
3. Hiring and onboarding process
Once you’ve identified a strong candidate, be sure to make a job offer quickly. Remember, the number one reason that drivers decline jobs is because they got scooped by another carrier sooner. You need a quick process for any hire, but especially for the elite OTR drivers. Once you’ve made the hire the story isn’t complete. Your work in retaining that driver starts from day one. Before they start the job, enroll the driver in your orientation and onboarding process. If your fleet doesn’t have formal onboarding, you should really consider implementing one.
Onboarding does a lot more than familiarizing your drivers to company policies and employees. Basically, onboarding will start doing the slow work of embedding the driver into your company’s culture. Remember that most drivers are looking for a meaningful job which speaks to their values and needs.
If your company can start signaling that its values are in line with the driver’s values, it starts to build long-term loyalty and a sense of belonging.
Remind your drivers that they are essential to the success of your fleet and that your company is here to be good to them. Building this relationship will go a long way toward retention.
4. Conduct employee surveys
Retention efforts start with the first day but must also be continually reinforced. A great mechanism for improving OTR driver retention is conducting periodical employee surveys. Surveys have a dual function: they help evaluate employee satisfaction and give you the opportunity to give feedback to drivers. Measuring employee satisfaction will give you constant data on what kinds of things employees enjoy and which needs aren’t being met. Include options on the survey for employees to detail their preferences if something isn’t working out for them. Collecting data on employee preferences isn’t enough—you should advocate for your drivers’ preferences as much as you can. Ideally, you’re able to effect some change that impacts drivers. Even if you aren’t, the drivers will appreciate that you tried your best.
While conducting surveys, take the opportunity to pass along feedback to your OTR drivers.
It is a misconception that drivers aren’t interested in hearing feedback from their fleet.
If a driver expresses frustration about negative feedback from the company, it more likely has to do with how that feedback was given. Including positive feedback along with suggestions for improvement is a tried and tested method. Drivers want feedback on their performance to have a sense of accomplishment and to have guidelines and direction for improvement.
5. Training and professional development
Retaining OTR drivers means giving them reasons to stick around longer with the company.
Your drivers care about independence and freedom, but also professional success.
If drivers believe they’ll be doing the same OTR run with you for years, they are going to start looking elsewhere. Any retention program has opportunities for further training and professional development. Training could be for more advanced certifications and permits. Maybe your drivers are looking to add hazmat or tanker endorsements to their belt.
In addition, see to it that your company offers leadership and teamwork workshops. These help build strong transferable skills—they benefit any employee regardless of the type of work they do. These opportunities help OTR drivers build more skills that they can use in their current job. Rather than taking these skills from your workshops and then running to a different fleet, drivers will feel grateful that you invested in their professional development. This fosters a sense of loyalty and identity to the company and makes it more likely that drivers will stick around with you longer.