"Do you have enough drivers at your company?"

Mark Allen, International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) president and CEO, asked this question to a room full of food industry professionals during an Innovations 2019 seminar in St. Louis, Missouri.

All but a few said they needed more-a lot more, in fact.

Allen said this wasn't unique, unusual, or likely to go away anytime soon. Not automation nor minor policy changes would reduce the number of drivers needed across the United States to fulfill the marketplace's need.

According to Allen, 71 percent of the nation's freight moves by truck, which amounts to 10.5 billion tons a year. Around 3.5 million drivers transport those pounds across the country. These foodservice drivers have an average route of 203 miles, 11 stops per route, and 52 pieces per stop. They are out, on average, 10.7 hours per route.

The industry is short 50,000 drivers; that number is expected to increase to 174,000 by 2026. Due to drivers retiring and a 27 percent turnover rate, IFDA estimates the industry will need to hire 900,000 new drivers in the next decade. 

"That's a lot of new people to bring into this industry," Allen said.

The reasons behind the driver shortage aren't new: an electronic logging device (ELD) mandate reduced driver capacity and flexibility. The job's long hours keeps people on the road and away from their family. And the minimum age for a professional interstate driver is 21, causing the younger generation to not get exposed to this high-earning position at an early age.

But that last piece could change.

Allen spoke about the DRIVE-Safe Act, a newly introduced bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would modernize the federal law and update safety standards to provide younger drivers with the opportunity to enter the trucking industry.

"What if you could get someone excited about becoming a professional driver and this industry at an early age?" Allen asked. "Let's get them early."

Dot Transportation, Inc. (DTI) President Paul Mugerditchian also spoke during the seminar. He shared how the company hires and retains its drivers.

"The one thing we do that might be different is that we are ready to hire people right out of CDL school," Mugerditchian said. "We think we are going to end up with a better employee, better driver, and put more smiles on our customers' faces by training them ourselves. It's a bigger expense, but it creates a better customer experience."

He also said DTI recruits from the Dot Foods warehouse, pays for those employees to go to CDL school, and keeps them employed in the warehouse so they can provide a steady income for themselves and their family while in school.

Home-time certainty and more driver job types, or job schedules, are other ways, according to Mugerditchian, that DTI attracts drivers to Dot. DTI offers alternative job schedules such as six days on and four days off (6x4 job type) and four days on and four days off (4x4 job type) to name a few.

Mugerditchian then gave tips, based on his experience, on retaining drivers.

Income Certainty

For any new driver they hire, DTI guarantees their first-year income, which varies between locations and job types. "For someone right out of school, that is a big deal, because they know if they work hard, they have an income guarantee," Mugerditchian said.

Home Time for Special Events

DTI does everything in its power to make sure that, when requested, they get their drivers home for important events. Whatever it is, build it into their schedule and stick to it, he said.

Good Equipment

Whether it is XM radio or seat program, any amenity you can add, add it. It's a big deal to drivers, he said.

Performance Incentives and Recognition

"Whether it is a handshake, a picnic, whatever it is, provide recognition. It's the right thing to do," Mugerditchian said.

Listen, Listen, Listen

"When your driver is visiting with you, it can't be background noise," he said. "If you don't take away those pearls of wisdom that they just shared with you, it's a big negative. You need to listen and follow up."  

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About Dot Foods and Dot Transportation

Dot Foods, Inc., carries 131,000 products from 1,100 food industry manufacturers, making it the largest food industry redistributor in North America. Through Dot Transportation, Inc., an affiliate of Dot Foods, the company distributes foodservice, convenience, retail, and vending products to distributors in all 50 states and 39 countries. Dot Foods operates 11 U.S. distribution centers, which are located in Modesto, California; Vidalia, Georgia; Burley, Idaho; Mt. Sterling, Illinois; Cambridge City, Indiana; Williamsport, Maryland; Liverpool, New York; Ardmore, Oklahoma; Dyersburg, Tennessee; University Park, Illinois; and Bullhead City, Arizona.

Dot Foods and Dot Transportation continue to experience exceptional growth. Both companies are looking to fill several positions for full- and part-time drivers and warehouse personnel at all U.S. locations. To learn more about careers at Dot Foods, visit DotFoodsCareers.com and follow @DotFoodsCareers. For more on opportunities available with Dot Transportation, visit DriveForDot.com.