Half of truckload carriers are now offering sign-on bonuses as a way to attract new drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations' recently released 2014 Driver Compensation Study. The average sign-on bonus was $2,300.

Gordon Klemp with the National Transportation Institute says their pay package data tracking has shown bonuses as high as $15,000 for teams and $4,000 or more for solo drivers.

"In the second half of 2010, we had zero companies offering sign-on bonuses," he says. "We've gone from zero to nearly 50 percent of the companies offering some sort of sign-on bonus or transition pay." (Transition pay involves paying drivers a higher per-mile rate in their first few months when the number of miles run is typically lower as they get accustomed to the company's operations.)

With so many in the industry offering such bonuses, Illinois-based truckload carrier Nussbaum transportation decided to try a sign-on bonus for the first time.

"We've always believed if a driver is going to come here it needs to be because we are what he or she wants, but the environment was tough enough so we decided to try it," explains Jeremy Stickling, director of human resources. "If you have a qualified candidate looking at online ads, and 15 companies look about the same and 12 have sign on bonuses," if you're the one without the bonus, you may be off the list.

However, he says, "we took a no-gimmicks approach. Some [bonus programs] you have to walk on water for a year. We're doing half of it the next week after orientation, and the second paid after 90 days if you are still employed. And it seems to have worked; we've got some good initial burst."

John Elliott, CEO of Load One, a primarily expedited carrier based in the Detroit area, says his company decided to stay out of the sign-on bonus race.

"It got into a sign-on bonus competition," he explains, saying many such sign-on bonuses come with "a million asterisks" and that few drivers actually end up qualifying for the bonus.

"We looked at it and said one, we can't compete, two, we don’t want to compete with this stuff. I think it's insulting to a big part of drivers and goes against our culture. We said, we're going to go against the grain and focus our money and effort on retention. The results have been great for us. I'm fairly confident we have the best retention rate of any major expedite company out there."

However, Gordon Klemp says the view of sign-on bonuses as merely a gimmick may be outdated.

"They almost uniformly pay out in a year or less, and most of them have a significant payout within 90 days." Today's sign-on bonus programs, he says, "are less complicated than the [sign-on] bonuses we had prior to 2006 where there were a lot of qualifiers. All the ones I've looked at in detail have been pretty straightforward."

A WebXclusive component of our year-long "Driver Dilemma" series. Read more at www.truckinginfo.com/drivers2015

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