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Hiring Drivers With No Experience: What Should You Do?


Here’s one of the most popular search terms from motor carriers: how to hire drivers.

There are really only two options. You can recruit them from another company or build your own farm system. Recruiting battles for drivers is a never-ending war. So, is it time to start creating your own system?

It’s Getting Harder to Find Experienced Drivers

Many companies are turning towards fresh CDL grads as a solution simply because it’s harder to find experienced ones. 

As this news article from Texas points out, experienced drivers are actually the ones leaving the industry. They’re retiring or, in some cases, flat out changing careers.

The lack of experienced drivers is forcing motor carriers to think outside the box. Some are hiring completely green while others are actually making their own schools and taking folks from sedans to CDLs.

Historically, only the larger motor carriers hired fresh-out grads due to insurance requirements for two years of experience. But with desperation to fill empty seats, the insurance companies are allowing carriers to hire newbies if you have a proper CDL Finishing School in place.  

So, is now the time for you to start hiring from the CDL Schools or creating your own?

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The Pros of Hiring New Drivers

Whether or not you decide hiring new drivers is the right choice for your company, you need to weigh the risks and rewards.

The rewards can be broken down into three categories:

  • Economic pressure
  • The adaptability of new hires
  • New hire loyalty

Economic Pressures

The data doesn’t lie. There are fewer and fewer experienced drivers in the field. As Freightwaves points out, there are about 80,000 fewer drivers today than there were in 2019.

The industry needs new folks to become drivers, and those folks will need to get their experience somewhere.

Whether or not they get their experience from you is another story, but without question, you’ll have an easier time filling your empty seats if you hire new drivers or make your own.

New-Hire Adaptability

According to this article from Criteria, a candidate’s past job experience isn’t nearly as valuable as their aptitude when it comes to predicting future job performance.

In other words, a more experienced candidate won’t necessarily be a better employee or a more trainable candidate. 

Experienced drivers come with bad habits throughout their careers. When you hire a driver, you’re hiring those bad habits. Those bad habits can take the form of unsafe driving behaviors, poor time management, or rudeness to customers.

There’s a chance new drivers have these issues too, but without years or decades of reinforcement, you might have an easier time training a new driver to do things your way.

New Hire Loyalty

Retention and recruitment go hand-in-hand. Many people argue that the reason the industry is hurting for drivers is because drivers are treated so poorly. Thus, they quit.

Better retention takes some much-needed pressure off recruitment, and according to this article by Transforce, new drivers are less likely to quit.

The article points out that new drivers have a 50% higher retention rate than their experienced peers, and they show more loyalty to their first company.

With effective new driver training, onboarding, and mentoring programs in place, you will increase your chances of keeping drivers for the long term.

The Cons of Hiring New Drivers

There are real risks you face as a carrier if you choose to hire new drivers.

The cons can be boiled down to two potential issues: 

  • Time and investment in new drivers
  • Potential safety issues

Training and Orientation Investment

Even if you’re hiring a veteran, we highly recommend you invest in some amount of training and orientation. Just because someone has had success in the past does not mean they’re ready to hit the road for you.

Regardless, your investment will be about double what you spend to onboard experienced drivers - $10,000 to $15,000 is the typical range. This is because you’ll have two drivers running routes that only need one and a week’s worth of training on the closed course before that driver is generating revenue.

A veteran may have developed bad habits, but there are also baseline skills that he or she has developed over the years. You’re starting from ground zero with a new driver.

Safety Issues with New Drivers

Insurance companies require two years of experience in the industry because, regardless of the new hire’s age, his or her first year behind the wheel is the highest risk for an accident. 

It’s important to point out that, while this data is true, it isn’t the whole picture. Studies show that tenure at a job is a better predictor of safety than tenure as a driver. What that means for you is if you invest in proper new driver training, you can bypass this risk.

If you hire new drivers and still don’t invest in proper training, you’re facing two big issues:

  1. The quality of CDL schools varies extremely. Most schools do as little training as possible to earn the tuition dollars which means limited driving hours. In fact, under ELDT, there is no minimum requirement for hours spent on training. This makes it easy for schools to graduate people who aren’t ready.
  2. Most Finishing School programs are team outfits. We’ve seen trainers who only have six-month experience leading rookies - they’re still a rookie themselves! ELDT has put new requirements in place, but if a trainer isn’t good at their job, you’re still hiring their mistakes.

There’s a certain amount of dice-rolling when it comes to hiring a new driver, but that risk goes away if you invest in safety training.

Weigh The Pros And Cons, But Take Action

The driver problem isn’t going away on its own. It’s getting harder and harder to attract, hire, and retain high-quality drivers. Think about starting your own Finishing School program for your future farm system. The risks are real but can be mitigated if you put in a proper Finishing School program and roll it out one trainee at a time. Get your sea legs under you and build the system in a controlled manner.

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