Searching for experienced truck drivers to hire? Try Twitter.
Truck drivers increasingly are going online to search for higher-paying jobs, using job boards, social media and other Web sites. That will put more pressure on employers to raise wages or take other steps to keep drivers on payroll.
The growing traffic on driver job boards and increased use of Twitter and other online services by trucking companies point to heightened demand for experienced drivers as a labor force already winnowed by the recession shrinks.
It also shows how rapid changes in technology are affecting the trucking industry, and truck drivers in particular. Heavy trucks are increasingly tethered to wired and wireless data networks, transmitting engine and location data back to companies, and more truck drivers are “wired,” too, using computers on and off the job.
Long-haul drivers today are as likely to have smart phones and laptops as CB radios, and they’re using them to look for jobs as well as to communicate with family and co-workers through e-mail and social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
“About 70 to 75 percent of the truck drivers out there have either a Blackberry, smart phone or laptop,” said Tony Orr, national sales manager at DriverJobs.com. “Five years ago, we were talking about how many drivers had cell phones, not laptops. Now everybody is ‘Skyping’ home,” Orr said, referring to the voice and video-over-Internet communications tool Microsoft just acquired for $8.5 billion.
That means carriers need to try conventional and unconventional ways to recruit drivers, Orr said. “There’s going to be a lot of out-of-the-box ideas. You have to be as innovative as possible and try to find ways to capture good drivers.”
Twitter, the online social networking service, is becoming a job-hunting tool. Several trucking companies, including J.B. Hunt Transport Services and Con-way, post job openings on Twitter. J.B. Hunt posts information about recruiting events as well.
Online recruiters DriverJobs.com and CareersinGear.com are taking their business to another level by holding a virtual career fair for truckers June 1. “This has never been done before,” Orr said. The fair will run from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. that evening.
Drivers will be able to enter a virtual exhibit hall and visit employer booths, watch videos, download documents, apply for jobs and chat with employers in group and private sessions. “They’ll even be able to use Skype” in the virtual event, Orr said .
Drivers may pre-register for the event at http://truckingvirtualcareerfair.com. Swift Transportation, UPS Freight, Transport America, Cardinal Logistics and Ryder System are among the carriers and logistics companies registered for the event.
Increased traffic on driver job boards is a clear sign of strong hiring demand.
DriverJobs.com has seen a 30 to 40 percent increase in job postings and driver applications over a year ago, Orr said. Another job board, JobsInTrucks.com, reported a 140 percent increase in traffic over the first four months of 2011.
The Driver Link job board offered by Link Logistics, the Canadian subsidiary of TransCore, registered 800 new drivers in the first quarter — more than 50 drivers a week.
“More than 1,000 drivers are logging in every month,” said Claudia Milicevic, general manager of Link Logistics. That’s good, as Canada will need 13,000 more drivers in 2012 than it had in 2009, the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council said.
The scarcity of qualified truck drivers isn’t a supply issue, but a training and qualifications issue, said Linda Gauthier, executive director of the CTHRC. “Carriers may no longer just put a driver behind the wheel,” she said.
That’s true in the U.S. as well, where the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA program is linking motor carrier safety ratings to driver performance more closely than ever, and weeding out poor drivers.
Demand for drivers at all types of trucking operations is getting stronger. The biggest measure of capacity this year won’t be trucks, but active drivers.
Owner-operators, Orr said, are in the driver’s seat. “Companies are doing everything they can to entice owner-operators,” he said. Carriers are paying registration fees, eliminating escrow requirements, handing out signing bonuses and fuel cards.
“We’re seeing a lot of lease-purchase programs to flip company drivers into their own trucks,” Orr said. “The companies want to get the driver into his truck and on the road as quickly as possible right after orientation.”
For-hire trucking companies in the U.S. added 4,500 jobs of all types in April, after adding 3,200 jobs in March and 10,000 jobs in February, according to seasonally adjusted payroll figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trucking employment is up 3.1 percent from its low point in March 2010, when the BLS counted 1,234,500 employees.
But the BLS trucking employment numbers are still slightly below payroll levels for April 2009, and 12 percent below the agency’s estimated payroll numbers for April 2007. The BLS tracks employment at more than 110,000 carriers.
That three-year slide shows how deep a hole the recession punched in trucking’s manpower, and how far motor carriers have to go to repair the damage.
As experienced truck drivers begin to gain strength in the truckload job market, driver turnover is beginning to rise, jumping from 39 percent in the third quarter to 69 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Driver pay is rising, too, although many trucking companies are looking for ways to increase a driver’s take-home pay before raising per-mile rates. That also depends on the use of technology such as routing and driver management software.
“You can’t just say we’re going to throw a few more cents per mile at the problem and pull people from construction jobs back onto the road,” said Andrew Clarke, president and CEO of Panther Expedited Services, which contracts owner-operators.
“Pay is going up, but there’s a smaller pool of talent out there,” he said. “The owner-operators out there are going to try for the best deal they can get. And they should.”
Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.