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story.lead_photo.caption Wal-Mart Stores Inc. trucks take to the road near the company’s Bentonville distribution center in this file photo. - Photo by Bob Coleman

Faced with a protracted trucker shortage, Walmart Inc. said Monday it plans to double its spending by the end of the year to recruit and retain drivers for its 6,500-truck private fleet.

The Bentonville-based retailer is using a three-pronged approach in an effort to bolster its fleet, which is among the nation's largest. Walmart will offer referral bonuses of up to $1,500; speed up the hiring process at some locations across the country; and launch a marketing campaign with billboards and TV ads that include nontraditional drivers.

The ads began airing Monday, in conjunction with the start of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.

Walmart spokesman Michelle Malashock said the retailer's openings for truck drivers currently number in the hundreds. Its turnover rate at slightly over 7 percent is well below the 90 percent national average for long-haul truckers reported by the American Trucking Associations. Still, Malashock said, the average age of a Walmart driver is 55, and many are choosing to retire.

At the same time, she said, Walmart's business is booming and that means lots of freight to move to stores and warehouses.

"It's both those factors -- retirement and our business growth -- that are leading us to double down now" on recruitment and retention efforts, Malashock said.

Nationally, the American Trucking Associations expects total tonnage transported this year to reach nearly 16 billion tons. According to its most recent Freight Forecast, truck tonnage will grow 2.3 percent annually for the next five years and 2.2 percent annually in the five years after.

The trucking trade group said in a report that the industry has seen a driver shortage for the past 15 years. By the second quarter of this year, the shortage reached a record 296,311 drivers, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence research.

Finding experienced, qualified drivers is problematic for Walmart, which only hires those who have driven 30 months of the past 36 months, Malashock said. The hiring process, which can take up to 70 days, includes background checks, road tests, and checking with former employers.

Walmart has been testing an initiative to get that 70-day hiring process down to about 30, Malashock said. It was tested in Bentonville last month and in Indianapolis last week, and feedback has been very positive, she said.

"We're evaluating it right now," she said, "and will probably be rolling it out to more locations soon."

The average annual first-year pay for Walmart drivers is about $86,000, she said. There's also a quarterly safety incentive that can give drivers added days off and bonus pay.

The retailer does have a small group of third-party, or dedicated, drivers it uses year-round, and it beefs up the fleet with these extra drivers during peak seasonal times like Christmas, she said. Still, "we're 100 percent committed to our fleet," she said.

"Obviously they're a huge brand ambassador for us," Malashock said. "They're rolling down the highway every day. They really keep our business moving, and frankly keep the country moving.

Business on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Walmart's trucker shortage severe

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