With hiring so competitive, carriers are getting creative to differentiate themselves, offering cash rewards to top performers and holding skills contests in which winners get cars or other prizes.

Ryder System Inc. offers $500 to $2,500 signing bonuses to new drivers, who must have at least nine months of experience to apply, said Patrick Pendergast, senior director of talent acquisition.

To hang on to existing drivers, Ryder throws employee appreciation barbecues and stresses the opportunity for drivers to advance within the company. It also hosts an annual driver of the year competition for each of its three divisions, which employ a total of 7,400 drivers. This year, winners get cash prizes. In years past, they’ve won new cars and trucks.

“It’s a huge deal internally for us,” Pendergast said. “The recognition is something that goes a long way toward building that culture of respect and caring and everyone being on the same team.”

Ryder generally bases driver pay on miles and stops but has moved to hourly pay for some jobs. Depending on the geography, the pay works out to $14 to $16 an hour for entry-level drivers and substantially more for drivers with four to six years of experience or specialty training, Pendergast said. Although he said turnover at Ryder is lower than for carriers with more over-the-road drivers, he wouldn’t share specifics.

In addition to offering competitive pay, staffing agency ProDrivers says it attracts drivers by creating a, respectful, supportive work culture. Its benefits range from health insurance and a 401(k) retirement savings plan to smaller perks like free drinks and fresh-baked cookies at all locations.

“The reason drivers tell us they come to us is how we treat them, from when we first engage with them and talk to them on the phone, to treating them with dignity and respect,” said ProDrivers Division President Mike Mitchell.

Despite those enticements, voluntary turnover among ProDrivers’ driver ranks is still 70 percent a year. Mitchell attributes part of that to drivers who want to work only part of the year, and to drivers who get placed with a client and subsequently are hired on there full time. He said 40 percent to 50 percent of the firm’s annual new hires are returnees.