December 16, 2021

Central Freight Lines’ closure puts quality drivers on market

Reliance Partners: Winning companies will make driver experience more favorable

LTL carrier Central Freight Lines met its demise earlier this week in what many have said was a long time coming after a series of misfortunes. The biggest trucking company shutdown since Celadon’s closure in December 2019, Central Freight similarly leaves 2,100 workers, including 1,325 drivers, without a job just a week before Christmas.

For the drivers, their plans for the new year will involve more than just making resolutions. They will be finding new employment as well. What are their next steps? Conversely, how should carriers respond to recruit and retain such qualified talent?

Brian Runnels, Reliance Partners’ vice president of safety, shared his thoughts on the situation and the path drivers and carriers should take moving forward with FreightWaves’ Timothy Dooner and Michael Vincent this week on WHAT THE TRUCK?!?.

Runnels expects most of Central Freight’s drivers to seek LTL employment, but things could be a bit hairy as he noted that the sector has somewhat shifted toward going after newbies, such as hiring internally through dock-to-driver programs. Nonetheless, he characterized LTL drivers as having more experience than most, which means this may be a golden opportunity for carriers to snag talent, especially for those believing there to be a driver shortage.

But just because these drivers are seeking employment doesn’t mean that they will take any job for the sake of it. After all, the increase in driver sign-on bonuses and other perks has made this a driver’s market, meaning that compensation alone may not do the trick to boost recruiting or even retention.

“The [companies] that are going to win are going to be the ones that are able to make the driver experience something favorable,” Runnels said, explaining that the experience should start from Day One onward.

He challenges not only driver managers, but everyone up the totem pole of command to extend the onboarding process by checking the temperature of their fleets regularly, making sure that drivers’ needs are being addressed. Runnels suggested going the extra mile with check-ins, noting that drivers remember only about 20-30% from the often short orientation process. He recommended reaching out to them after their first paychecks or upon completing their first loads. Runnels said it also wouldn’t hurt to check to make sure the driver’s settlement sheets are correct and they understand how to read them as well.

“So many of upper management are viewed as living in an ivory tower — and maybe some are — but for those out there that are involved, I think that’ll give them a better chance of keeping drivers because it shows everybody that they care,” Runnels said.

However, employment is a two-way relationship. Runnels advised drivers to be realistic with their expectations. “I think that sometimes we forget that the perfect trucking company doesn’t exist,” he said. Keep in mind that most trucking companies are doing what they can to balance their day-to-day operations with the varying needs of their driver base.

“A little note to all of all my drivers out there: Just because they make you mad one time doesn’t mean it’s going to continue every day, so don’t jump ship looking for that big sign on bonus just because you’re irritated on any given day,” Runnels said.