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Truck Driving Employment in a Soft Market

I always know what a dog is thinking. I just look at a dog and I know. It’s “I’m Hungry."

—Basketball Great Larry Bird

And I know what commercial drivers have been thinking for years. “If I keep my nose fairly clean and my current employer does not work out, there are several more jobs just like it that I can get without too much effort.” And for years, that is how it has been as trucking companies tried to keep up with their need for drivers. But now freight is slow and there have been new headlines such as “Driver Turnover Plummets.”

I have been involved in driver recruitment and screening in one capacity or another since the mid-1980s and have been reasonably alert most of that time. I have never seen a climate like the one we are in. Drivers are staying put, and companies are hiring fewer drivers to replace the ones that do leave. In fact, in periods of 2008, driver turnover rates reached their lowest level in at least eight years (when the final tally is made, I think it will be much longer) as opportunities to switch employers were reduced by carriers’ decisions to trip fleets in the sluggish freight market. When carriers are hiring in this economic environment [today], they can be choosier about whom they hire. Driving and employment records that may have been good enough to get a job two years ago may now be bad enough to prevent getting the same job.

The bad news is that no one knows how long the current economic slump will last and no one is venturing any short term rosy predictions. The good news is that when the economy does get moving again, trucking and freight should be an early mover. And demand for drivers will grow—quickly. As the average driver population is aging and drivers have left the industry during the downturn, the need for drivers and the “driver shortage” will come back with a vengeance. (I’m confident the economy will turn around, freight will pick up and drivers will be in short supply. If the economy does not turnaround to the degree that there is no freight and increased need for drivers, we are going to have bigger problems than this article is prepared to address.)

I’ve discussed the climate with many drivers over the past several months given some advice and listened even more. Here’s what I am hearing:

If you’re currently employed but want another job...

The best time to plan for your next job is while you are at your current job. You can afford to be picky in choosing a new job—but you cannot afford to be unprepared. You should give yourself thirty days to obtain all your driving, criminal and work history information before you think you will need it—it may be inaccurate and you need to have time to correct it. If a company obtains information on you and denies you a job, they oftentimes will not consider you again for a given period of time. Remember that qualification standards are higher with many companies than they have been in times past. You should know what information shows on your record and be able to prove employment—even if one of your past employers has gone out of business. If things are not going well, keep your cool and continue to do a good job—but start preparing now.

If you’re unemployed…

You can waste a lot of time and effort on companies that are not hiring. Be prepared by knowing your information and zero in on those companies that have freight in the area you want.

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