Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

May 16, 2016

4 Min Read
Driver Shortage Poses a Challenge to the Waste Industry

In a driver drought not expected to end anytime soon, the industry is examining its recruitment and retention strategies. Companies across the board are looking to not only find solid employees, but to keep them once they’ve become well-trained, experienced drivers.

In fact, a recent survey by HireRight on employee recruiting and retention practices in the transportation industry showed 59 percent of respondents reported finding, retaining and developing talent was their top business challenge. It got more than twice as many responses as any other challenge. The report also estimates that across all industries, the average number of new drivers needed per year over the next 10 years is 96,178.

The 2016 Transportation Spotlight report also found that 41 percent of drivers are leaving to spend more time at home and 21 percent are leaving due to health issues, prompting companies to take a closer look at wellness and lifestyle programs to increase retention, recognizing the positive effects they can play in retaining drivers.

“Companies and local governments need to provide appropriate compensation to attract qualified applicants,” says David Biderman, executive director and CEO of Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). “Further, making sure that drivers feel appreciated and addressing safety concerns can help employers retain drivers.”

According to Christopher Doherty, vice president and chief marketing officer with the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), the waste industry will have 49,300 new jobs for collection drivers and 71,500 new diesel mechanic jobs by 2022.

The NWRA tends to look at the situation as a “drivers, mechanics and welders shortage,” Doherty adds. So, for example, a lot of the companies that are suppliers to the industry are desperate for welders. As one of the largest industries in the country using natural gas vehicles, there’s also a mechanic shortage, he says.

One point of emphasis is making sure people know that this isn’t what the waste industry was 40 or 50 years ago, Doherty says. Today the job includes driving sophisticated vehicles and the highly technical skills needed to service those vehicles. In some situations, with overtime, a lot of drivers can make $100,000 or more annually.

As the driver shortages continue to dominate the waste and recycling industry, a driver recruitment and retention seminar will take place at the 2016 Waste Expo in Las Vegas on Monday June 6, at 9 AM. The panel will be moderated by Tony Cardamone, vice president, sales and marketing with Concorde Inc. and feuatre Nichole Causton, employment manager with Waste Connections Inc. and Dave Tidwell, senior manager of logistics EHS with Dean Foods. The panel will discuss how companies are strategizing their recruitment efforts and how they are closing the loop on retention.

To deal with these shortages, the NWRA has formed a recruitment committee that allows for its members to compare notes at an industry level looking at how many jobs might be available in one state or another. This also helps tackling ideas like reaching out to the veteran community with job opportunities. As service members transition back to civilian life, the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation have streamlined the commercial driver’s license process to recognize military service.

“So a lot of our member companies, and we as an industry, have reached out to many of the organizations that are trying to promote the worthy cause of jobs for veterans—on how to appeal to veterans saying, ‘Hey we’re one of the few industries that touches every business and every community in the United States, so our jobs are virtually in every community around the country and not a lot of other industries can say that,’” Doherty says.

Earlier this year, the NWRA’s committee also released a recruitment toolkit for recruiting drivers and mechanics in the industry. It covers the screening and background processes, sourcing prospective employees and the types of training that might be helpful for onboarding.

The toolkit is not just for recruiting drivers and others, but also keeping them.

“Some companies are very well known for the quality of their driver training and they go through all of this recruitment process and training to get somebody on board only for the local mattress company comes and poaches that driver away after two years or so, and you’re back to square one. So it’s trying to retaining good employees as well,” says Doherty.

So a lot of comparing of best practices and trying to address why the careers in our industry are so compelling and what the benefits of careers in our industry really are. Some of the benefits are predictable hours, locations in terms of finding opportunities.

Last fall, NW&RA did a satellite media tour reaching 10 million people through TV and radio, highlighting a success story of an employee from Florida-based Waste Pro.

“He started right out of high school jumping off and on the back of a truck,” says Doherty. “And now he’s one of the youngest regional sales vice presidents at Waste Pro. He was the embodiment of the opportunities that exist within our industry.” 

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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