Skip to content

How Today's Top Fleets Increase Driver Retention: Advice from Industry Experts

Driver retention is critical to the success of today’s fleets and something many companies struggle with. According to recent data, the average turnover rate for large truckload fleets is around 90%, and the average for small truckload fleets is about 80%. So there’s definitely room for improvement. 

In this post, we’ll examine how today’s top fleets increase driver retention and offer advice from industry experts that you can apply to your operations. 

The Commercial Carrier Journal’s Solutions Summit

In October 2021, the Commercial Carrier Journal’s Solutions Summit took place in Phoenix Arizona. At the summit, three of the top leaders in the fleet industry — Blair Eswell, Timmy Tran, and Jeremy Stickling — spoke about some of today’s most important topics. 

Increase driver retention

They discussed driver recognition, improving driver pay, and improving quality of life for drivers to ultimately boost retention. Here are the key takeaways from their talk. 

Giving Drivers Choices is Essential

The main topic of discussion for Blair Ewell, senior vice president of Trucking Operations at USAT Capacity Solutions, was empowering drivers to make their own choices. “They’re all human beings, they live these lives and they don’t have any choices of what happens to them,” Ewell writes when describing the conventional approach of fleet transportation. “They don’t get to choose what freight they haul. It’s being dished up to them from a system, an old system — the same one we’ve been using for 35 years in business.”

But Ewell says this can be toxic to driver retention. Taking the approach of “you’re going to take this load, you’re going to take your break, and then you’ll take another load whenever I get around to telling you about it,” can quickly create resentment among drivers. After all, “who would want a job where you have no choices?” he adds. This is a terrible way to attract drivers and makes it extremely difficult to retain them for the long haul. 

His solution has been to use an app that shows drivers loads available in their area including specific empty miles limitations and other metrics. Drivers can check if they can transport the load within HOS and see if they’re within the constraints of empty miles. Once the load is validated, the transport begins. After implementing this system, Ewell said the results have been significant, with fleets slashing turnover in half and increasing productivity by 30%. 

While Ewell was speaking specifically to the trucking industry, his logic can be applied across the board to most fleets. Treating drivers like robots where they have no say in anything is a surefire way to increase turnover. That’s why it’s important to give drivers more control and continually ask for their feedback. This can help establish better relationships and deeper company loyalty that not only has a significant impact on driver retention, but company culture as a whole. 

Jeremy Stickling, chief administrative officer at Nussbuam Transportation, discussed how competitive the fleet industry has become in recent years. But unlike many other industries where certifications can help professionals stand out, earn more pay, and find better opportunities, this kind of advancement opportunity has been lacking with fleets. Stickling says, for example, software developers can get certifications as they learn new programs or increase their skillset. But this doesn’t happen with fleet drivers. 

Stickling’s response has been developing a system of certifications that are entirely optional but, if attained, can help drivers earn more and be more desirable to employers. He notes that obtaining these certifications is on the drivers’ own terms — something that naturally increases interest and willingness to participate. 

“The system works by rewarding drivers for ongoing education and engagement. The system offers four rounds, or semesters, throughout the year and rewards drivers not just on avoiding tickets or accidents, but also driving styles.” Besides that, these certifications are rewards-based where drivers earn an extra 2 cents per mile or a salary increase of $50 a week along with decals they can place on their vehicles. Certifications come in increments of 100,000 miles, and each time a driver reaches a new level, there’s the equivalent of a graduation ceremony to acknowledge their progress. 

And the results have been impressive. His company Nussbaum already had a lower than average turnover rate of 40%. But after unrolling their certification program, participants had a drastic drop in turnover, lowering it to less than 11%. On top of that, there were four times fewer crashes, and drivers put on 3% more miles than other drivers on the fleet. With results like these, implementing a similar type of certification program is something to consider for your fleet.  

After unrolling their certification program, participants had a drastic drop in turnover, lowering it to less than 11%. Click To Tweet

Innovative Tech Can Greatly Increase Driver Retention

The third speaker, Timmy Tran, is vice president of systems and technology at JLE Industries, one of the fastest-growing flatbed trucking companies and freight carriers in the US. His main focus was on effectively using innovative technology to A) view team members as individuals instead of just drivers and B) predict their needs and wants to improve in all aspects of fleet operations. “A lot of companies I see, it’s just like ‘what’s your average productivity?,’” Tran said. “We look at an individual to see what they’re capable of and how we can improve on that.”

At his company JLE, for instance, there’s a strong focus on using data science to monitor everything from recruiting and onboarding to load planning and dispatching. They also use this technology to keep a close eye on retention to identify trends and patterns. In turn, this has allowed JLE to increase productivity and better predict the needs and wants of their drivers. Nothing is done haphazardly, and all important decisions are based on concrete data. 

On top of that, it’s been instrumental in improving communication between fleet leaders and drivers. By using cutting-edge AI, they’ve been able to analyze nearly every interaction and develop predictive models of how to best communicate with each individual. Although at first glance this type of tech may seem detrimental to the human touch, JLE has found it to be an asset, and it’s been a key factor in their ability to increase driver retention.  

There are several other applications for tech in the fleet industry. Derive VQ, for example, provides access to a wealth of near-real-time data so you can see how your drivers are performing individually and collectively. GPS tracking helps optimize routing and rerouting, spot inefficiencies, and improve communication. 

Increase driver retention

And management solutions provide alerts to risky driver behavior so you can instantly correct issues and provide educational opportunities. As a result, this prevents problem areas from persisting and helps managers maintain better rapport with drivers which helps with retention. 

Closing Thoughts

Given that many of today’s fleets struggle with retention, it’s a critical area to address. If your drivers aren’t sticking around as long as they should, you need to be on the lookout for ways to increase their job satisfaction and reduce turnover. While there are numerous ways to go about this, the three strategies mentioned by fleet leaders above highlight proven techniques that get real results.

To recap, those strategies are giving fleet drivers more choices and continually gathering feedback, using certifications to encourage engagement and improvement, and implementing innovative tech like AI, analytics, and fleet management software to boost productivity and establish better communication.