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Flexible scheduling part of USA Truck's bid to attract drivers

by Robbie Neiswanger | August 13, 2015 at 2:07 a.m.

USA Truck unveiled another layer to its revamped recruiting and retention efforts Wednesday, announcing an initiative intended to provide drivers with flexibility in their schedules.

The policy, which USA Truck calls "Choose Your Hometime," promises to give drivers the option to choose when and where they take their weekly time off within the company's route network. Russell Overla, executive vice president of truckload operations for USA Truck, said the program was developed and implemented after the company sought and received feedback from its driving fleet.

"Quality of life is the phrase I use a lot," Overla said about the discussions. "They prefer a better quality of life. And quality of life, for some, means pay. For others, it means home time."

The Van Buren-based company announced a pay increase for drivers that went into effect June 1 as part of its plan to hire more experienced people and rely less on recently graduated students to fill its fleet.

The newest initiative, which went into effect last week, will give members of the company's truckload fleet the option to go home on a weekly basis to fulfill their mandated 34-hour restart, which is a requirement under federal laws. They'll also have the option to spend downtime anywhere within USA Truck's network. Overla used a driver who lives in Atlanta but has family in Chicago as an example.

"They'll be able to take home time the next weekend in Chicago if they would like," Overla said.

In addition, drivers who choose to remain on the road for several weeks at a time will be able to bank home days to use at a later date without any limits.

Previously, USA Truck's drivers were permitted to bank only up to five home days. But Overla said the company decided that wasn't fair to those who were willing to stay on the road for six, seven or eight weeks at a time, so the policy was amended.

"This really gives them flexibility on where they take their home time and who they take their home time with," Overla said. "There's weekly home time. There's biweekly home time. You can stay out three weeks and go home for three days. Or you can stay out four weeks and go home for four days. Or they can go out for 10 weeks and then go home for 10 days.

"It's really one day for every week after if they're not taking the weekly home time."

USA Truck's plan is one of a growing number of methods used by trucking companies to attract and retain experienced drivers in an industry affected by a shortage that has grown to between 35,000 and 40,000, according to the American Trucking Associations. Bob Costello, the organization's chief economist, said in a statement earlier this year that it is "getting more pervasive in the truckload sector."

There's no shortage of products for transportation companies to move, but they're feeling a capacity crunch because there aren't enough drivers to fill truck seats.

Dan Cushman, chief executive officer of P.A.M. Transportation Services Inc., referred to the shortage during a second-quarter earnings call late last month when he said continued growth within the Tontitown-based company, which reported a record $7 million in net earnings for the quarter, would hinge on providing drivers with opportunities to maximize earnings and allow for desired home time.

"Like most of the industry, we continue to experience difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified drivers," Cushman said in a news release. "The difficulty has required us to make significant investments in driver recruiting and retention efforts, including increasing the number of driver recruiting personnel and expanding the number of driver training school partners."

Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said it's not unusual to see companies working to attract drivers with incentives such as home time. She said USA Truck's approach appears to include a new twist by offering drivers to choose when they take time to go home.

"You really see the mindset of the trucking company, the employee, are changing," Newton said. "The driver is truly the desired commodity. So they're evaluating all the other aspects of the business to do what they can do to make that driver have a better lifestyle."

USA Truck believes its program, coupled with the increase in pay, will be successful in attracting experienced drivers to its fleet without affecting the company's profitability. Overla said the company -- which reported $2.5 million in net earnings in the second quarter -- also did thorough research to ensure its network would not be strained by the flexible schedules of its drivers.

He described the new initiative as a "win-win" for everyone.

"We want to be able to give them several options. They've earned that," Overla said. "Anything we can do to make the drivers feel more part of the company, feel more like a family environment. Having them want to be here instead of having to be here, that's what we're always looking to do."

Business on 08/13/2015

Print Headline: Flexible scheduling part of USA Truck's bid to attract drivers


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