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How to Hire Local Truck Drivers: Job Skills

How to Hire Local Truck Drivers: Job Skills

By: Joanne Cleaver

How can you successfully hire a local truck driver who will meet your needs and standards? Experienced recruiters say that successful local truck driver candidates are just as much diplomat as driver, as they are the face of the company to customers and the public.

Alleys, bicyclists, school buses, pedestrians, accidents, road construction—plenty comes between the driver of a local truck and her destinations. Navigating a route is about more than getting from point A to point Z and all points in between; every day is different, requiring grace under pressure and a high tolerance for the unexpected.

Here are the skills and certifications to look for when recruiting a local truck driver for your business.

Key Local Truck Driver Licenses and Technical Certifications:

  • A commercial drivers’ license (CDL) is the essential state-issued license. Renewal periods and conditions vary by state.
  • The “Class A CDL” indicates that the license is for driving a truck with an automatic steering system. 
  • Specialty licenses, such as those for handling hazardous materials and different types of steering systems, may be required for specific jobs.
  • Experience with specialty supply chains, such as ensuring that refrigerated or frozen foods are handled properly (the ‘cold chain’).

Additional Background Checks and Screens for Local Truck Drivers:

The trucking industry is highly regulated by state and federal departments of transportation. A thorough background check and screenings include:

  • Moving violations, going back at least 10 years.
  • Driving while under the influence; most employers have a zero-tolerance policy and do not hire drivers with any convictions for driving under the influence for work or on personal time. 
  • Operating under the influence: some employers also screen out candidates who have convictions for operating boats or any vehicle while under the influence. 
  • Compliance Safety Accountability records, available through the federal Department of Transportation, provide historic records of each driver’s and each company’s performance and safety. 
  • Physical fitness, to comply with regulations. 
  • Additional health screenings are recommended, such as indications that a candidate is at high risk for sleep apnea. 
  • Records on driver health, safety, and working conditions compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • If the route crosses into Canada, a license and background check to comply with that country’s regulations. 
  • Additional factors that may be required by your company’s insurance provider; check with your financial or operations manager for details.  
  • Expect to conduct a driving test on the appropriate truck.

Recruiting Tip:

Collaborate on an ongoing basis with schools that offer CDL training, advises Lynn Willey, Placement Specialist with Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska. Southeast goes beyond the standard job fairs by asking local transportation employers to serve on panels that coach student drivers in the interview process and with soft skills. Willey also asks for employers’ input about emerging skills and, in turn, sends strong candidates their way.

 How to Source Local Truck Drivers: 

  • Veterans who are skilled at driving large vehicles and adept at learning new mechanical systems.
  • Midlife career shifters and early retirees who crave a part-time job that specifically does not lead to management or a desk job. Midlife candidates often have well developed people skills, so they are more adept at customer service along their routes. 
  • Legal immigrants for whom English is a second language. Spanish or other languages can be an advantage for communicating with customers fluent in those languages. 
  • Women who are shifting back into paid work from a stint at home with children and who expect local trucking to offer shifts compatible with personal responsibilities. 

Recruiter Tip:

Ellen Voie, President of Women in Trucking, a trade association based in Plover, WI, advocates for women in all aspects of trucking, has found that local driving is an attractive option for women who want to merge back into a career after staying at home with children. She advises recruiters to make it clear your company wants women by showcasing women drivers in job descriptions and by including women managers in the hiring process. This will help candidates to realize that they have career options at your company.

Key Skills to Look for in a Local Truck Driver: 

  • Patience and diplomacy.
  • Flexibility, especially when navigating erratic and unpredictable traffic conditions and routes.  
  • Willingness to comply with regulations and rules.
  • Collaborative communication skills with dispatchers and schedulers.
  • Consistency and truthfulness in keeping logs and reports.
  • Mechanical aptitude for both troubleshooting and long-distance collaboration with mechanics at the home site. 
  • Math skills for calculating bills of lading and for understanding customer documentation.
  • Ability to manage and continually learn new communication, GPS and monitoring technologies.

Recruiter Tip:

Potential recruits will check your operation and the type of vehicles and routes you offer, points out Lyle Gruntorad, Program Chair for the Commercial Drivers License training program at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska. Candidates will screen you on or off their short list partly based on what they find via online searches, so post essential details about equipment, schedules and company culture.

What to Cover When Interviewing Local Truck Drivers:

Many common interview questions walk the line of what is legal to ask. Consider using an interview guide as part of your interview preparation.

Keep these other factors in mind when interviewing local truck drivers:

  • Reliability is essential. For newly trained drivers, ask about how they have stayed on schedule with prior jobs. For experienced candidates, ask how they handle schedule-derailing complications on the road. 
  • Personal grooming and a friendly demeanor are key to cultivating customer relationships. Your company’s name is on the truck, but it’s the driver who defines your company’s reputation with customers. 
  • Ask experienced candidates how they have handled accidents on the road.

Recruit to Retain Local Truck Drivers:

Potential local driver career advancement may include:

  • Specialty experience, such as learning to operate a dump truck
  • Winning assignment to a permanent route and shift
  • Team leader

Related jobs include:

Recruiting Tip:

Stay in touch with Millennial candidates via Facebook and Twitter, advises trucking operations consultant Stephen Prelipp, of Prelipp Consulting, based in Chapel Hill, NC. Candidates in their twenties and early thirties tend to be in sync with the rapidly evolving technology demands of driving and are interested in hearing about equipment, benefits and routes, he says. 

How to Retain Local Truck Drivers:

  • Seniority should be rewarded with plum schedules and routes…but one driver’s plum is another’s prune. Drivers expect top performance to be met with their choice of schedules and routes. 
  • Additional training and skills development shows drivers that you are investing in their professional future.

Recruiting Tip:

Truck cabs are designed by default for average-sized men. Progressive employers are semi-customizing cabs to accommodate drivers whose size and proportion are outside the traditional norms for adult males of European ancestry. Accommodating cabs for women and small-framed ethnic minorities involves adapting seats, seat belts, pedals, dashboards and steering columns, according to Gruntorad.

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