METRO’s most recent motorcoach survey found that 77% of respondents are having difficulty recruiting, hiring and retaining drivers, which has created challenges for some operators looking to grow their businesses. The crisis appears to be reaching a fever pitch for the industry, which has pushed operators to use new workforce development tactics, including adding full-time human resources departments, increasing marketing and advertising, and enhancing their benefits package to be more attractive to job hunters.
To get a grasp of how large the issue has become, how it’s impacting business, and most importantly, what is being done to get a handle on the issue, METRO spoke to a few operators from around the nation to get their perspective.
How long have you noticed a shortage in drivers and how has this impacted your business?
Callen Hotard (President, Hotard Coaches, New Orleans): Over the last three or four years, there has certainly been a lack of really good, professional and qualified drivers coming on board. We’re still seeing a lot of applicants, but over the last three or four years, we’re only able to move forward with 10 to 15 percent of the applicants we get because most of them don’t meet our qualifications. Fortunately, we’ve managed to hire and keep the number of drivers that we need.
At this point, it hasn’t cost us opportunities, because we have a lot of growth in different markets and have hired a tremendous amount of drivers over the last few years to handle that growth. But, it has been challenging. We have enough drivers today, but we are in the process of trying to add another 30 drivers in the next four months. It’s been a constant process. We’re now always marketing and advertising for drivers.
John R. Meier (President, Badger Coaches Inc./Badger Bus Lines, Madison, Wis.): I’d say it’s been an issue over the last three years and has been slowly getting worse and worse. Anybody you talk to that hires drivers, whether you are in the school bus, limousine or trucking industry, is also experiencing the same issue. It’s not unique to motorcoach.
It has definitely impacted our business. For the most part, we have done a pretty good job mitigating the issue, but it used to be you’d have issues having equipment available. Now, you have to worry about having drivers that are ready to go.
Tommy Rayle (VP, Operations, Holiday Tours Inc., Randleman, N.C.): We don’t seem to have as large as a problem as others, but we definitely do have a shortage. The last couple years have been a little more challenging than things used to be. Fortunately, it hasn’t impacted our business yet, we’re just really not getting the number of applicants that we once did.
Has the issue impacted your business in any other way?
Hotard: One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is the cost of getting employees hired. We have people who are working full time on the whole hiring process, from advertising and marketing to checking qualifications and lining up interviews. The cost of all of that has gotten to be very expensive. In the past, you’d have applications on file, because we weren’t always hiring. I never had to spend money on recruitment and hiring before. Now, it’s a big cost of doing business.
Meier: You’re working your staff harder, which isn’t a good scenario. There’s also a potential that you’re trying to get all your buses filled, and you may be holding on to people that you wouldn’t usually keep on board because of their attendance or other issues.
What have you done to try and attract more drivers?
Rayle: As far as recruiting goes, we’ve reached out to our civil servants — fire, police and military — in the last year more than we ever have, which has been a success. We also have a nice facility on the highway and we keep signs out front.
Quite honestly, some of our problem was somewhat self-induced in that we didn’t look at applicants promptly enough. So we now have a quicker response time to any applicant we have apply. We used to wait and train during our slow times, so sometimes we’d put applicants off for a quarter of the year. Now, we’ve made them a higher priority. If an applicant comes in the door, we take the time to talk with the applicant right then; we do the same thing over the phone if somebody is calling to inquire about a job, as well.
Meier: We’ve had to be really creative and focus in [on a specific group]. We did an analysis on the demographics of our company and looked at the areas where we’ve been successful, as well as the age groups we’ve been successful with. I’ll share with you now, that the 55-plus demographic has been our best group. The reason why is that they’re usually retired and don’t want to work that hard. They usually only want to work part time, or at least maintain a limited work schedule, which makes them perfect candidates for us because much of our work is part time. We focus on all demographics, but 55-plus is the area we are really focusing on. To do that, we’ve spent a lot of money on early morning TV news [ads]. We’re in a business where people are up early, so we want to make sure to market to people that are up early as well. We also do a lot of social media and online marketing, which has helped attract the younger generation of the workforce.
We know we have to go after everything; we just really need the numbers. We are not leaving any stone unturned, but we are also focusing more energy, resources and money into the areas where we feel the low hanging fruit is. Considering how challenging it is where we are, I feel we have a good plan and that we’ll make our target to get fully staffed again by the fall.
Hotard: Hotard has six locations and about 260 driver positions, so we’re always looking to hire and have spent a lot of money on advertising for drivers, whether it’s through social media, the internet or print. Once we identify those applicants, we really focus on showing them that working for Hotard is a great opportunity for them. You have to really show them everything your company has to offer to convince them to feel good about maybe changing jobs or taking the opportunity to come on board with you. It is very similar to trying to land a new customer — you want to show them the benefits of your company and why they should choose you.
The third step to the process is, once you get drivers on board, you want to retain them, so it’s a matter of having good programs in place, having a good culture — we have a lot of incentives for drivers that are with us. We want to reduce the turnover as much as possible by creating a culture and environment that they are going to be proud to be a part of, and from a compensation standpoint, we want to make sure they are fairly compensated.
What are you doing to improve driver retention?
Meier: We have looked at what other companies are doing, because we’re not immune from copying a good idea. We have a very aggressive retention bonus. We also pay more money for people who work harder. It is one thing to get people in that want to drive, but it’s another thing to get them to drive a lot. The more they are willing to work, the more opportunity we both have to make money, especially when you have limited drivers. We’ll also develop drivers from our van or school bus businesses if they are interested in moving into the motorcoach industry, where they can make more money. So, just getting them in a vehicle, getting them started and making them successful is what we are really trying to do right off the bat. The rest will hopefully work itself it out.
Rayle: Generally, we’ve been able to get them to stick around, but we’ve made a lot of changes recently, including implementing an improved starting rate. Overall, we moved our review cycle in tighter, from 18 months to 12 months, with the hope that it helps them feel better valued and see their pay increases more regularly than in the past. We also added a first review and potential increase at six months for all new hires, and implemented an annual uniform allowance to assist drivers with uniform garments.
Most recently, we have implemented a quarterly mileage bonus for all drivers along with an enhanced benefits package for all full-time drivers we are putting in place in the late summer. We also want to continue to work hard to build an improved positive work environment where our drivers feel valued by all dispatch and operations employees, and we welcome them into our operations facility with an open-door policy. Through this improved overall package for our current drivers and improved employee satisfaction, we hope that our current drivers will attract more new drivers for us. The thought process really is, if we get a nibble and catch one, we want to make sure we treat them well and keep here and happy.
Hotard: Our wage package has changed to try to improve on the benefits we offer them, which includes everything from their uniforms to paid vacation time to sick leave to bereavement days to performance incentive bonuses. There are many things that we have addressed and have in place to make it an attractive opportunity for qualified people to come and work for Hotard.
The big reason for the changes in our packages is because the industry’s talent shortage isn’t unique to just drivers. It also includes finding qualified mechanics, sales people, bus washers; we know we have to be competitive in the workforce to attract good, quality people. To me, there is no doubt about it that this is a people business, and you have to have good quality people to provide the level of service you need to be successful with your customers.
Is there anything from a regulatory process or any other initiatives you think could possibly help attract more drivers to the industry?
Hotard: I don’t think there are any government regulations causing issues. What I have seen is that the requirements to insure drivers requires two years of experience, which really eliminates us from bringing new talent into the industry. This insistence to hire people with experience forces us to rely on finding drivers with at least trucking experience. It would be nice if we could actually create our talent, get people in and get them trained from the ground up.
What I would really love to see is if these trucking academies that exist around the country added a motorcoach certification program, which would allow us to hire motorcoach-certified drivers that would then just have to go through our in-house training. That would really help increase the industry’s driver workforce.
Meier: I have some ideas. Half of our drivers in our company are female, and I think the motorcoach industry needs to go after that group and encourage them to drive coach. There a lot of them driving school buses right now, and they are perfectly qualified, so there’s a good area of potential there.
I feel the CDL testing program needs to be revamped. It seems to be too punitive when somebody fails a portion of the test, and therefore, has to delay to retake. In most cases that potential driver will move on and that’s not good for our industry.
It’s not always the case that your best drivers are the ones that passed the test the quickest or easiest, sometimes your best drivers are the ones you have to work hard to develop.
Rayle: From a regulations standpoint, nothing really comes to mind. I do know more drivers are challenged with getting their health card than in the past, but that’s a good thing, because we want them to be nice and healthy workers.
Up until about a year-and-a-half ago, we typically looked for someone to come in with a CDL and at least trucking industry experience, but we have modified that. We’ll now spend more time training someone who has the qualities we’re looking for, but maybe not quite the driving experience, and just spend more time training them. We’ve really broadened our spectrum of driver candidates by doing that.