Expanding the Driver Pool

Recruiting younger drivers, women and returning military personnel. Part 3 in HDT's Driver Dilemma series on the driver shortage.

March 2015, - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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As part of a new younger driver training and recruitment program, Bulldog Hiway Express requires a year of incident-free driving with the company before 21- and 22-year-olds get additional training for overdimensional loads.
As part of a new younger driver training and recruitment program, Bulldog Hiway Express requires a year of incident-free driving with the company before 21- and 22-year-olds get additional training for overdimensional loads.

"If we don’t infuse our fleet with young, talented drivers, we’ll retire ourselves out of business.”

That’s the dilemma Phil Byrd, president and CEO of South Carolina-based Bulldog Hiway Express and past chairman of the American Trucking Associations, and many other carrier executives are facing as the nation’s pool of truck drivers skews more and more toward retirement age.

Fleets have had trouble finding good drivers as long as there has been a trucking industry. Much of that problem has been related to driver turnover, or “churn,” as the same pool of qualified drivers keeps circulating, or churning, among carriers.
Today, however, that pool of drivers is static if not shrinking, in the face of rapidly rising demand for truck capacity.

The truck driver population is aging rapidly. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (the research arm of ATA), in 2013, 56% of truck drivers were older than 45, compared to only 49% of the nation’s total workforce. In 1994, 40% of the nation’s truck drivers were 34 years old or younger; in 2013, only 21% were 34 or younger.

At the same time, Noel Perry with transportation analyst firm FTR says the industry is facing “an impending wave of regulatory drag scheduled for late 2016 and beyond,” including productivity losses anticipated from the implementation of mandatory electronic logging devices and other new driver-related rules.

That’s why the industry, as well as individual carriers, are looking for ways to expand that driver pool.

Younger drivers

Driving a truck for a living is not seen by today’s youth (or their parents) as a desirable profession, as our society increasingly pushes high school graduates to pursue a college education. In fact, a good portion of truck driving school graduates are empty nesters and second-career seekers in their 40s.

Even if a high school student is interested in trucking, federal regulations mean he or she is limited to intrastate trucking until age 21. By the time they hit that age, most young people who might otherwise be interested in driving a truck are already involved in another trade or profession.

On top of that, many insurance carriers require drivers to be older, typically 23 with at least two years of verifiable experience.

The insurance question is especially a problem for small- to mid-sized fleets that can’t self-insure, says Byrd. So Bulldog Hiway Express, working with its insurance carrier, recently implemented a program allowing it to bring on 21-year-olds.

The company, which has several hundred trucks involved in flatdeck and drayage operations, designed a 200-hour, seven-week curriculum that teaches skills such as defensive driving, load securement and hours of service rules. The goal is to train only a few drivers at a time, for a total of 22 drivers a year.

Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized puts 18- and 19-year-old drivers through an extensive training process, with one-on-one mentoring in everything from load securement to logbooks.
Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized puts 18- and 19-year-old drivers through an extensive training process, with one-on-one mentoring in everything from load securement to logbooks.

These new drivers will have a full year of incident-free driving under their belts before they’re allowed to come back and get additional training to haul steel coils or over-dimensional loads, and they won’t go into the congested Northeast until they’ve proven themselves in less-challenging regions.

Yes, it’s a big investment, Byrd says, but “it’s the future of our survival.”

Minnesota-based Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized is going after even younger drivers, taking advantage of the lower intrastate age minimum to help bring on 18- and 19-year-olds. Because the 55-truck company has extremely low turnover and a stellar safety record, its insurance company has been willing to be a little more flexible, says Joyce Sauer Brenny, CEO and founder.

Brenny’s program puts drivers with a commercial learner’s permit through 17 weeks of training before drivers do any runs on their own. They start out on short, cross-town runs and remain local drivers until age 21, but still come in weekly for mentoring and feedback sessions. Even once they’re 21, a trainer goes with them on their first few over-the-road runs.

Many fleets, however, say they can’t put in the kind of investment Brenny has in developing a training and progressive driving program for these younger drivers. “But when you look at the investment [fleets spend on] turnover, we feel it’s worth putting in on the front end, finding the right person and spending the time with them,” Sauer Brenny says. “There are a lot of good young ones out there if you have the resources for them to go intrastate till they’re 21 years old. We’re fortunate enough to have enough local stuff where we can do that.”

She’s working with the Minnesota Trucking Association to come up with a graduated CDL training program for younger drivers, as well as a pilot program to gather real-world data to share with insurance companies and regulators.

Meanwhile, ATA is pushing Congress to address a lower driving age in the upcoming federal highway bill.

Ellen Voie, president of the Women in Trucking association, checks out a new custom spec from Ryder designed for women drivers.
Ellen Voie, president of the Women in Trucking association, checks out a new custom spec from Ryder designed for women drivers.

Women drivers

With an estimated 5-7% of the commercial truck driving population made up of women, there is a large labor pool that could be tapped. Carriers are increasingly highlighting the successes and experiences of their women drivers.

Con-way recently launched a video series on YouTube featuring the experiences of two of its longtime women truck drivers and their careers in truckload and less-than-truckload driving.

Bennett International Group, a woman-owned carrier based in McDonough, Georgia, last year launched a program called Bennett Women in the Driver’s Seat. The program features profiles and articles about Bennett’s women drivers on the company’s website. It also includes networking and mentoring opportunities, and a one-year membership to the Women In Trucking association, a group representing women in all aspects of the trucking industry.

Werner Enterprises recently named driver and trainer Felicia Berggren the first woman to drive one of the fleet’s patriotically decked-out Freedom Trucks. She represents the company and visits truck driving schools and other events across the country, putting a public face on opportunities for women in trucking.

Companies that are doing a good job of recruiting and retaining women “have a culture that values and appreciates women,” says Ellen Voie, president of Women in Trucking.

“Years ago you could walk into a terminal and see more women in the mechanics’ calendars than you did in trucks,” she says. “Fortunately, that has changed, but not everywhere.”

Some recommended strategies for drawing — and keeping — more women drivers:

  • Make sure your recruiting ads appeal to both men and women. WIT last year ran a competition to highlight ads appealing specifically to women. The three top ads, from Walmart, Republic Services and Prime, emphasized truck driving as a career choice.
  • There should be women visible in management roles.
  • Consider women in your truck specs. WIT has worked with truck makers on ergonomics, and leasing company Ryder recently announced a special spec designed to appeal to women. Specs considered female-friendly, such as automated transmissions, adjusted height and placement of cab grab handles, easier access to oil and coolant checks, and adjustable foot pedal height, also can appeal to any driver that doesn’t fit the “burly trucker” stereotype, as well as young people who may never have driven a manual transmission and expect a more comfortable work environment.
  • Address concerns about security. This could include cab security systems, training drivers about personal security, and allowing dogs that act both as a security alert and provide companionship.
  • Revisit your company’s sexual and gender harassment policy and make sure it’s enforced. Discrimination and harassment issues have resulted in high-profile legal cases against trucking companies, especially involving training programs where male trainers were teamed up with female trainees on the road. Women in Trucking offers members a 30-page anti-harassment guideline.
Carlus Patterson is a former veteran who now drives a dedicated route for Ryder.
Carlus Patterson is a former veteran who now drives a dedicated route for Ryder.

Returning military

The American Trucking Associations and the Truckload Carriers Association have both committed on behalf of their members to hiring what adds up to hundreds of thousands of veterans in the coming years.

Companies such as Schneider, J.B. Hunt, Waste Management and YRC Freight appear on the list of most military-friendly employers at According to J.B. Hunt’s website, nearly 20% of its driving force is veterans. Werner Enterprises set a goal of hiring 5,000 veterans in five years and exceeded that in a little more than three.

At Wisconsin-based Schneider, 27% of company drivers have military experience, according to spokesman Mike Norder, who says the company has a long history of being military-employee friendly. An apprenticeship program with the Veteran’s Administration gives veterans up to $1,146 a month in their first year. For reservists or people in the National Guard, Schneider does not require them to use vacation time for drill commitments.

To help with the transition from the military, Norder says, “In the onboarding we will pair them with another veteran from our training staff and a training engineer that has military experience, so their first couple of weeks with Schneider, they’re with somebody that really does know what they’ve gone through.”

The only LTL carrier on the GIJobs list is YRC Freight. Less-than-truckload carriers traditionally have not had difficulties finding drivers, but that is changing.

“We need to continue to fill up the pipeline — we have people retiring, we have a very senior employee list,” explains Mitch Lilly, senior vice president of labor and employee relations at YRC.

Hiring military personnel who are currently exiting the military also helps address the issue of bringing in younger drivers. “They’re going into the military at 18 and coming out at 22, and that’s perfect,” says YRC Freight Director of Recruitment Dave Renfrew.

“The key to that is they don’t have a lot of experience in city driving, in backing, etc., so we’ve developed a training program to hone their skills and prepare them for the road,” Renfrew adds.

There are a number of agencies and programs that can help your fleet connect with veterans, including the Department of Labor, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program. A number of trucking companies work with FastPort, which has teamed up with Hiring Our Heroes to match returning veterans with trucking jobs. Some programs even allow hiring companies to work with military personnel starting as long as a year before they are due to get out.

Kansas-based YRC Freight started seriously working on hiring veterans last May. By the end of 2014 it had hired 411 veterans, and between 2014 and 2018, the company says, at least 25% of its hires will be military veterans.

“We started this for the driver program,” Lilly says, “but we’ve expanded it to all functions of the company, because those core values [of military personnel] mirror our own, and we need those caliber people in all levels of our team.”

Whether they focus on younger drivers, women, military, or other possible recruits, fleets that want to avoid getting “retired” out of business need to start looking at every way they can tap the wider labor pool for new drivers.


  1. 1. Rick Gaskill [ March 16, 2015 @ 04:56AM ]

    You can use a company training 22 drivers a year as an example where the companies with a shortage hire thousands of drivers a year. The carriers mentioned as "veteran friendly" actually exploit veterans. For example , Werner claims they have hired over 5,000 veterans in the past few years and will continue to hire 1,000 veterans a year. Are they expanding their fleet? No, they have reduced their fleet of just over 7,000 trucks every year for the past few years. Where did those thousands of veterans plus thousands of nonveteran new hires go? Also most carriers disregard military driving experience and veteran drivers start as trainees like everyone else.
    The reason older people go to trucking is desperation. Their job in their previous career has been eliminated and they have been unable to find similar work. Most of them will leave the industry within a few months much further in debt than when they started.
    Why are younger people not willing to enter the industry? The internet is a recruiter's worst enemy. Potential drivers go to driver forums and learn the reasons behind high turnover and how trainees are abused.

  2. 2. Don Lafferty [ March 16, 2015 @ 07:14AM ]

    We really find ourselves in a dilemma, we missed the boat when you have to be 21 to get a CDL. the burden is only going to get worse if it is not addressed, I don't understand how a person that is 16 can legally go on a road with a piece of farm equipment that is as wide as the road, and the only thing that is required is reflective triangle, and to drive a truck you are required to be twenty one, and in many cases two years experience is required before they will insure the younger drivers. With many of the older drivers retiring early because of the new regulations, electronic logs, and OBC, they would just as soon be a greeter at WalMart. What has happened over the past 10 or 15 years is many drivers have come in from foreign countries to fill the void, some are very good drivers, however many of them don't even come close to speaking fluent English, at our brokerage firm we deal with these drivers every day, not to say most of them aren't good drivers, that would not be the truth, but when you deal with a person that doesn't know a lick of English you wonder how they ever passed their CDL test. With some carriers we actually have to communicate with the dispatcher and sometime that can be a challenge. Until we make up our minds that we are going to allow 19 year olds to drive we are not going to solve this problem, and if this would become the case we would have to allow the Trucking Industry to Manage it, not a bunch of politicians that are only interested in getting reelected no matter what the cost. H.R. 120 was reintroduced to the house, it has some good features, but when we get to the point we are allowing shippers and customer to dictate who is qualified to ship their product when the decision is based on information from the Safety System, or the SMS, and many of these companies have no idea how the qualification process works, or the rigorous procedures a broker or a
    3-PL goes through when vetting a new carrier.

  3. 3. Cody [ March 16, 2015 @ 07:28AM ]

    Word travels fast on the Internet where young people are tuned in..with the cost of living going up and the negative image of trucking along with the lies told by carriers to fill a seat, anyone young or old with half a brain will steer clear of this disaster in the making..also more and more people are looking for a "mom and pop'" carrier that will treat them more personally than the mega trash...I think things will start to look up for small carriers as this trend continues..the big fleets have burned about all the bridges they have hence needing to lower the driver age so they can screw and run another set of persons away from the business..

  4. 4. Greg [ March 16, 2015 @ 08:10AM ]

    The driver shortage is do to over regulation by the Federal Motor Carriers. Many drivers including me have quit driving because we are treated like children with no common sense. The 14 hour rule is the most ridiculous it has taken away the ability to manage one's time and sleep. In the old days if a driver wanted to stop and eat because they were going to hit a big city at rush hour and drive through later that was fine now they loose driving time due to the 14 hour rule. In the old days if a driver lost half a day waiting on a load due to an inconsiderate shipper they could run that night as they had napped all afternoon waiting on the load and were not tired anyway, now they loose driving time and lay in the bunk when they are not tired and able to sleep. The over regulation is the cause of the driver shortage, they try to justify it in the name of safety, in my opinion the improvements in safety are due to stricter enforcement and the not the new rules. The stricter enforcement would have been just as successfully for safety with the old rules and would still allow the driver to manage their time. The safety problem years ago were due to people not following any rules (even the reasonable one’s). The trucking companies need to go to bat for their drivers by pressuring their Congressman and Senators to get the Federal Motor Carriers off this over regulation. The old timers like me are going to continue to tell there kids and anybody else that asks about driving as a career to look elsewhere, the government has turned it into a undesirable way to make a living. The big companies need to step up and fight back if they want a better quality driver pool, many of the good drivers have already quit and more will fallow!

  5. 5. Cody [ March 16, 2015 @ 08:22AM ]

    Well said Greg..

  6. 6. Linwood Windsor [ March 16, 2015 @ 07:16PM ]

    Due to a bump layoff I got the CDL and then was recalled back to work. In the same paper then ads were 4-5 columns long. About 50% local and national for the rest. 90% of the ads required 2.5 to 5 yrs experience. The rest were for local straight truck that may or may not require the CDL. Today the number of ads are 3 -10 in number. 2080 hours in the work year the time away from the home terminal should be paid for. Add a motel rate to the over night away from home. The 14 hour day driving or not. If the driver is not being for the hours on duty not driving, then the driver is giving a subsidy to the company and I the consumer is not paying the true cost for the product that I buy. That 14 hour day is 3640 hrs work year - 2080 hrs = 1560 hrs overtime . they are for a 5 day work week.Thus the company driver that is not being paid for all of that time away home and can not do at home may keep me out I maintain the license on my own, do to being a caregiver I do not drive for hire. If it happens in the future, it would be for a local fuel oil co with the summers off

  7. 7. Dan [ March 16, 2015 @ 11:44PM ]

    The delimia for all carriers.... finding, then keeping drivers who will work for chump change, @ 80-100 hrs. per week, or more. Enjoy having their bodies beat to a pulp...back surgery here to release a compressed nerve, repair one & remove another disc after 30 yrs.behind the wheel, get little to no sleep on many occasions, sit for days on others, turn & burn to keep those wheels turning when the runs are there & for the joy of it all, replace your blood with diesel fuel, go go juice, motion lotion etc.etc. cuz somewhere down the line you find you can't live without that life style. Nope, all the garbage drivers put up with will be on going until the carriers destroy themselves. They fight against hrly. pay, salary pay & keep their mouths shut, except OOIDA, when the goons in DC shove up the pipe more safety regs. Blah, blah, blah kids? Okay, so who really rules the roost.... the consumer. When you don't get the truck delivered on time to get whatever to the store on time cuz you were forced into a break by some beaucratic yahoo, who bitches up a storm? The best result, they are assuaged by the new whatever, the worst.... your carrier is replaced by another who can get the "job done" & it starts all over again. P.S. When my wife, girlfriend @ the time road with me for 6 mos. 30+ yrs. ago she stated she'd never seen a profession so cut throat. Made that observation 2 mos. in. Let's hope that changes down the line. It hasn't so far. I left trucking in '09. Gad, what a group "our" profession is!

  8. 8. Bob [ March 19, 2015 @ 08:11AM ]

    I just ran a keyword search for the word "PAY" not ONCE does it show up in this article LMAO I am going to love watching these mega carriers slit their own throats. Folks, you're watching the beginning on the snakes eating their own tails. I will sit from a far and watch this burn down. Kids today are too smart to get into truck for such laughable wages, it has nothing to do with regulations, E-Logs, etc that's a complaint only coming from old borderline retired drivers. Young drivers would prefer an electronic log over paper. That's like having an old guy yelling that people are leaving working for newspapers because they no longer us typewriters. It's all about the money and the lack of it that is causing this problem.

  9. 9. Cliff Downing [ March 21, 2015 @ 07:58AM ]

    There is no shortage of drivers. Whenever their is a shortage of something, the cost rises. Given the hue and cry that has come out of the ATA, TCA, etc about a driver shortage, incomes would be in the 6 figures by now for the majority. Until they are, I will not encourage anyone to choose this line of work. I need to see substantive proof of a shortage before I will be convinced. Every few years this issue seems to come to the surface. I have heard it over and over for almost 4 decades. Nothing substantive changes.

  10. 10. Roy [ March 23, 2015 @ 04:33PM ]

    The over regulation of the industry and the Bullshit rules that follow are the reason I won't go back on the road. They don't want drivers they want a warm body someone that can drive like a damn robot and not stop. Then not pay anything for mileage. I am the same way i tell people look the other way and find something else to do. Job is just not worth it anymore. If the companies would be more 'HONEST" while recruiting and not try to sugar coat the job they have more would probably stay and drive for them as well. I had a company tell me they have the trucks turned down to keep me from going and having to fuel so often its to keep you out of the truckstops.

  11. 11. ted wright [ March 25, 2015 @ 10:05PM ]

    I've been driving for over 30 years it used to be a blast. Now its not. What with no place to (legally) park when out of hrs and lying cops. I had one tell me that my drawbar donut was worn out on a spankin" new set of trlr's that dialogue turned ugly fast. Local jobs shoul pay at least 60 grand take home and line should be 150k + take home pay. Spend all you make on the road $15 a meal x3 a day parking showers and on and on most people can put up with just about anything if they are compensated enough but when McDonalds has a higher average hrly wage compared to hrs they are away from home then somethings drastically out of kilter. the only driving job worth looking into these days is for the county or state road / flood dept the trucks all have exempt plates. Which means NO SCALES NO WEIGHT OR EQUIP WORRIES OR POWER TRIP COPS and no shipper/receiver/dispatcher buffoons.

  12. 12. Robb dogg [ April 02, 2015 @ 09:23AM ]

    DAMN! I had alot to say but you guys already said it.

  13. 13. steve [ April 04, 2015 @ 08:46AM ]

    In Canada many jobs pay better than driving truck on a per hour basis. I just left driving truck to go on disability A single person with special neds gets 1,227 per month plus free drugs a single mom with 2 kids takes home only $100.00 less per week than an ot r driver in Ontario by time you rent in the GTA. and include the drug plan. 5193578686

  14. 14. David [ April 04, 2015 @ 09:14AM ]

    Good comments all the way around. Greg hit the nail on the head. OVER regulation is driving the best and oldest out. I got out after 38 yrs. sold my truck , trailer and all. I used the electronic logs--talk about dumbing down , even a ten yr old can handle those. That is the point---regs are taking over where good decisions made the difference before. Now for the younger folks I also steer them away from trucking for the reason Bob put forward --MONEY--as a o/o I was able to make enough for my wife to stay home and raise our sons. As a driver there is no hope of that and even some o/o can't do it today. So yes for the sacrifices one make to this industry the compensation is not enough. When I left I was seeing more and more folks from OTHER countries filling the slots. If you need to ask why you haven't been around trucking long enough , and that will continue in my opinion for some time to come. Till they wreck enough trucks anyway.

  15. 15. Robert [ April 19, 2015 @ 04:12PM ]

    Many great comments and observations here. I don't think there is a driver shortage but rather a shortage of better pay to attract more people. I've been every type of driver, a safety director, a driver trainer, truck school owner and at 60 approaching 40 years with a truck license. If drivers were compensated for every hour DOT regs consider on duty it would change this industry. Most drivers aren't calling for a union or even overtime. They would like better pay so you could afford meals on the road, a decent vacation pay rate, a couple of paid sick days or personal days, (say 3 per annum) and a 401 K match that the company ended up contributing at least $2,000 per year vested from day 90. Having a CDL should have a value of $15 per hour for beginners up to $30 per hour for well experienced safe drivers. Don't help your carrier hire drivers by "overselling" the pay or responsibilities and demands of the job. Everyone treats a drivers time as free since they aren't paying for it. Once everyone has to pay for a drivers time you'll be amazed how much better shippers, receivers, and carriers will treat you. I know money isn't everything but we all know it's really important. Most drivers like driving and they like it even better when they are not under pressure and the compensation pays enough to put up with the petty stuff and unusual demands of the various types of drivng jobs. I still do some driving and the outfit I work with pays by the hour for every thing we do, (and they pay well) and there is very little turnover. (more likely retirements or leaving for even more pay per hour!) Remember, If drivers are regulated down to the minute.....They should be Paid by the Hour !!

  16. 16. Ken [ May 02, 2015 @ 06:15PM ]

    I know alot of truckers are against unions and for the most part most drivers don't understand the benefits of unions. They set prevailing wages which are usually on the high end and typically set a higher standard for health and time off benefits. Organized labor is much harder to take advantage of and has much better leverage when it comes to negotiations. OOIDA is a union in as much as they collect dues offer insurance and will represent their members in legal matters, and company issues but they can't negotiate wages and benefits. I am not a spokesman but was a teamster years ago and would like to hear about organizing nation wide. I'm sick of complaining and being taken advantage of. Elogs are a horrible solution for compliance unless you're a large company and can't compete on a service level but they will put all company drivers on a level playing field to demand compensation for time spent waiting

  17. 17. John Esposito [ September 10, 2015 @ 05:09AM ]

    Their is no shortage of good drivers, the issue is the poor pay structure for the hours you work, this is what drove thousand out of the industry. Pay has not kept up with deregulation. These truckload carriers burst on the scene in 1980's and successfully ruined a good career. Not going to work attracting good honest hard working drivers, today is why trucking has fallen apart.

  18. 18. Jeff pearson [ April 28, 2017 @ 09:57AM ]

    First .. why do these companies want veterans? Its sure not a loyalty because they think that they can bully the person around and order them to jump.. and the guy is used to how high sir..funny thing.. they arent in the military anymore and need to be treated like a person.. AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE..Second these companies are not giving these new drivers enough training and not putting them out with a GOOD SEASONED trainer... i talked to one guy..he had just gotten his CDL and that company wanted to make him a trainer...the trainer needs AT LEAST 5 years ..third...these companies are trying to make this job sound like a cruise where you will see the country and get paid for it...but remember gillians island with that three hour tour...a night mare...fourth.. these companies need to pay a good wage.. at least 50-55 cents for ALL MILES.. and they need to QUIT LYING to the drivers..fifth.. these drivers today.. most dont have any common sence.. will back up blind sided and not even stop to look what they are going to hit. Ive had my commercial drivers license for over 45 years.. when i started i was 20 and drove intra figued out there were two types of drivers.. those that loved it and who would do almost anything to drive..AND those that drove because that was the best job they could get..Today there are a few job lovers.. and about half with thats the best they could get.. and we have a new class...the think they are..they think they are a truck driver because their trainer with 6 months driving experience tells them that..or that dispatcher who really needs that load moved will tell the guy how he can handle it..and the company has so much confidence in him..the think they can hear them telling about how they know everything in the truck stop...even with my 45 plus years i dont know everything and learn something new every day..but the think they are will tell you all about how great they


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