Attracting talent and providing career path development in trucking extends well beyond the driver’s seat

What does career path development look like at your fleet?

This is a point we hit on frequently at NTI in our work with fleets of all sizes. The pervasive lack of career path — or at least a stated and understood path — for professional drivers absolutely is a contributor to the churn of industry exits. On the flipside, there’s immense long-term value to fleets, to drivers, and to the industry as a whole of providing a proper career path and communicating it clearly and consistently to your professional drivers.

As I recently learned, however, the pressing need to build and promote career trajectory and career development in trucking extends to all levels of trucking companies, not just for those in the driver’s seat.

I attended and spoke at the Voorhees Supply Chain Conference in late October at Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business, where I had the welcomed opportunity to converse and engage with both undergrad and graduate students there, as well as faculty within Ivy’s supply chain program.

Of course, one of the primary topics was job placement opportunities for these students once they graduate. I’ll give you one guess as to what I consistently heard not only from faculty, but from the Dean of the college, about their job placement program.

The answer? Not enough students to fulfill the openings for all of the companies recruiting from the college.

While there are obviously parallels in that sentiment to the challenges fleets face in recruiting and retaining drivers, that wasn’t what struck me. Rather, what left me the most unsettled was that trucking companies in particular fare the worst among those trying to recruit these students into entry-level job opportunities.

Up against household names like major shippers, as well as technology providers and a range of other vendors in the transportation and supply chain sectors, motor carriers struggle to make their opportunities seem attractive enough, and frankly, cool enough for these college-aged students eyeing their first career move.

Even more concerning than appearing attractive, though, is that the job types, the pay and the benefits, and — most critically — the career path trajectory of the jobs being offered to these students by trucking companies lag well behind.

So it’s not only that shippers, tech companies, and vendors are offering more pay and more vibrant opportunities, they’re providing invaluable development experience and ensuring there’s a defined progression into better roles within the company.

And that’s where the real parallels lie with carriers’ driver recruiting and retention programs. The “earn your stripes” mentality simply is no longer workable. In fact, it can be somewhat laughable. Younger people in today’s job market are actively searching for roles with fast-paced upward trajectory, not only in terms of pay, but also in responsibility, title, and status.

They also want to feel like their work makes an impact and has value at their company, within their industry, and within the economy as a whole.

When students like those at ISU’s Ivy College see a shipper building innovative, technology-forward programs to revamp their supply chain or to meet the demand of the modern consumer, that appeals to them so much more than an entry-level grunt job in the office of a motor carrier — especially for pennies on the dollar of the paycheck.

They don’t feel like the jobs being offered by carriers are valuable to the company, to the industry, or to their development as young professionals. Not to mention the salary comparison.

While it may not sound like a big deal that carriers aren’t competing for this entry-level talent from collegiate supply chain programs — it is a huge deal. We want and need that talent in our industry.

Smart, driven, ambitious people who need to be in roles at trucking companies to help them navigate an evolving economy, to help them meet the demands of shippers and consumers, and to develop into the future leaders our industry needs simply aren’t considering our segment of the industry as their first choice.

They don’t see the value in pursuing opportunities in trucking.

As someone who’s so passionate about our industry and the opportunities it offers, I was disheartened to hear that feedback at the conference.

But doesn’t that dynamic sound familiar? Those are the same struggles motor carriers face in recruiting and retaining professional drivers. The same principles apply: Paycheck, meaningful contributions, and career development that shows an investment in them as a professional and as a person.

It’s why the average age of a truck driver has been stuck at 54 years old for the past 10-15 years. We have a fundamental problem and we’re often not willing to change it, because we don’t think we need to. There’s a generational gap that we’re often not ready to accept — but we can’t let it continue to widen.

The path forward is a two-pronged approach.

First, carriers need to work quickly and diligently to make their opportunities and trucking careers more attractive. Ensure that your pay is in line with market demand for similar roles, whether those roles are at shippers, vendors, or other trucking companies. Map out what a career path looks like at all levels of your organization.

Find the opportunities for advancement — and make sure it’s an accelerated plan that shows fast growth for those who earn it. You can’t expect young people, especially in entry-level roles, to work the same job for five years anymore. You probably can’t realistically expect people to work the same job for three years, likely even two years, in the early stages of their career. So establishing those growth opportunities within your company is vital. Even for drivers — find opportunities to reward them for their tenure and time with you, in whatever way that looks like at your fleet.

Secondly, communicate all of that! Work your internal marketing programs. Use social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok to promote achievements of those within your organization.  Use company newsletters, video messages, face to face meetings, check-ins from operations leaders and driver managers to clearly communicate and sell the career path and opportunities that you have at your company.

Trucking jobs are cool. They’re attractive. They’re meaningful. Opportunities to work in trucking should be highly competitive for talent of both professional drivers, as well as those looking for entry-level jobs out of college programs. All we need to do is make a few adjustments, invest in the right areas internally, and promote our industry effectively and in the right channels.

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One more note on this topic for consideration. As part of the mosaic of solutions needed to draw more drivers to industry, I’ve long suggested that carriers offer free training — whether for driving jobs or other roles at your company — to spouses and family members of your personnel. Even of-age children and neighbors should be included, too. I still maintain that position. Your drivers’ children, their neighbors, their community and our community should be the next generation of drivers, of office staff, of technicians, of safety managers, and all other roles so vital to fleet organizations.

Help spur that trucking evangelism within the walls of their homes, their schools, and their community. Let them market the fact that you offer an internship program at your fleet.

When kids in their community, or even under their roof, are choosing their next phase of life after high school, they should automatically be thinking of your fleet, of careers in trucking, and of all of the pathways and development opportunities our industry offers. There are plenty of success stories in our industry to highlight, and we’re going to promote a few of those in the NTI blog within the next few weeks to provide examples for your company to follow.

If you have more ideas on this subject, as always, we’re all ears: lshaver@driverwages.com. Until next time, be safe and well. ~Leah

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