Facing a labor shortfall of up to 80,000 drivers, many carriers are willing to try competitive strategies to attract and retain their workforces. Poaching drivers from competitors, a strategy that has previously sparked past fears of litigation or backlash, is now becoming an increasingly common or even necessary option for companies.
“All firms are trying to get drivers,” said Michael Zimmerman, who leads consulting firm Kearney's analytics practice for the Americas region. “Poaching is just a reality in today’s environment.”
Zimmerman pointed out that, in any given year, only a small proportion of drivers are new to the profession, which means that carriers must recruit most of their drivers away from competitors.
“So carriers have to poach drivers or attract them from a different industry — but then they have to train them," Zimmerman said.
Paul Adams, CEO at RoadEx, said poaching is a vital part of staying competitive in the industry and has been for decades.
“If you aren’t trying to lure qualified, experienced drivers to your company, you’ll have a hard time keeping up," Adams said. “Companies are looking at a lot full of trucks with no one to drive them and are more motivated than ever to put someone in the seat.”
Poaching can take on a variety of forms, said Adams, from strategically placed bumper stickers on the back of a trailer to using specialized recruiters and big sign-on bonuses.
One of the most common tactics carriers use to poach drivers is to offer a competitive salary, particularly among start-up carriers looking to build their labor force, Zimmerman said.
“When we talk about a driver shortage, in reality, we’re talking about a shortage of affordable drivers,” said Zimmerman. “If you’re starting a trucking company tomorrow and you’re going to offer drivers $200,000, you’re going to find drivers.”
Companies lament that poaching hurts their turnover rates, Zimmerman said, but ultimately, most carriers are guilty of the practice. “You’re looking to hire drivers, too, so you’re part of the problem,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
However, just as carriers seek to poach drivers, they must also be weary of losing their own workforce to the same practice. The best way to combat poaching is to make drivers want to stay, Adams said.
“Treat them well, pay them fairly and give them good equipment,” he explained. “Get creative on ways to retain drivers and make them want to stay put and work hard.”
Zimmerman agreed, noting the importance of providing drivers with a solid work-life balance.
“Driver populations with the lowest turnover rates have regular, dependable routes that allow them to be home on weekends and nights, with good salaries,” he said. “The more that is true, the less [drivers] are poachable.”
A vested signing bonus is also an effective strategy, Zimmerman said. This might look like a $20,000 signing bonus that is spread out over time: Give the driver $3,000 at signing; another $7,000 at six months and then the final $10,000 after a year, for instance.
Relief from truck driver labor constraints may be a long way off, so understanding the value of retention is probably a carrier’s best strategy to avoid losing drivers to poaching.
“The industry faces a steep uphill battle when it comes to retention,” Adams said. “Poaching good drivers is how companies build their workforce and remain competitive. As long as it’s done morally, poaching can be an effective way of adding to a trucking fleet and setting a company up for future success.”