Having completed its fourth year, the Best Fleets to Drive For competition has already become one of the most sought after awards a North American trucking company can win.
Visit a trade show, peruse the recruitment ads in a trucking magazine or listen to satellite radio programming and you’ll find many instances of the winners of this prestigious award proudly proclaiming their status as a “Best Fleet.”
The program itself has grown from a concept that some in the industry initially discouraged, to a contest companies are now actively engaging in and promoting, all in just four years. The story behind the Best Fleets to Drive For program is as interesting as the program itself, and it began right here in Canada as the brainchild of Jane Jazrawy, vice-president of product development of the small, Markham, Ont.-based online training firm CarriersEdge. Jazrawy, and company president Mark Murrell, founded their online training firm in 2000 and brought it to the trucking industry in 2005.
They were soon hearing all about the industry’s problems, such as its high driver turnover and an inability to attract young workers. They heard very little about what the industry had to offer as a profession and the a-ha moment came in 2008 when Fortune magazine posted a list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, with Google coming in at number one.
“I realized there were no trucking companies of any sort on that list,” Jazrawy recalled in an interview with Truck News.
“We thought it doesn’t add up,” Murrell added. “There has to be good stuff. There has to be people who are passionate about what they’re doing. There has to be good stuff out there that needs to be shown to the world.”
From there, Jazrawy developed the concept of a survey that would seek out the most positive driver-oriented initiatives being offered by trucking companies and then reward the companies that are involved while sharing their best practices with the industry as a whole.
“We wanted to find out what companies were doing to make drivers stick around,” she recalled.
When Jazrawy and Murrell floated the idea of a competition to industry, they met with some resistance.
“There was certainly opposition to it and people who thought it was a crazy idea,” Murrell admitted. “There were people who thought it was wrong and that we shouldn’t be pitting fleets against their peers.”
“But that was never the intention,” Jazrawy hastened to add. “The idea was to celebrate the good stuff.”
Undeterred, the duo designed a program that relied heavily on driver input.
“One of the things we thought was extremely important was getting the drivers to voice their opinions,” Jazrawy said.
To get the program off the ground, Murrell said a strong partner was needed. Several organizations were approached with lukewarm response. Finally, everything came together when Murrell attended a Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) event and with the encouragement of a friend from the industry, approached the TCA for feedback. At the time, fellow Canadian Ray Haight served as its chair, and he immediately fell in love with the idea. Before long, TCA endorsed the program and offered to help administer it, bringing the Best Fleets to Drive For competition to life.
It was around this time that the bottom fell out from under the economy and the trucking industry in particular.
“We launched it at the worst time,” Murrell admitted. “For the first couple of years, there was largely indifference. We always had good interest from drivers nominating their fleets. But for the first couple of years, companies were really having a hard time just trying to keep the lights on.”
To be considered for the award, a fleet must first be nominated by one of its drivers. From there, the carrier must go through an exhaustive evaluation process consisting of questionnaires, driver surveys and a lengthy phone interview. Those first couple years, many fleets balked at the program because they hadn’t heard of it and they figured there was a catch. With each passing year, the level of participation among the nominated fleets has increased, organizers point out. As awareness of the program has grown, carriers have seen benefits of taking part, including the ability to fly their flag as a ‘Best Fleet to Drive For’ in their recruitment literature and also an in-depth report on their own operations that’s produced for them as part of the evaluation process.
“They go through this interview process and it is a real exercise in becoming self-aware,” Murrell said. “They learn a lot about themselves and they also get all these driver surveys done. There’s no charge to them and they typically get a report that’s 30 pages or so.”
“It gives them a sense of where they’re strong and where they can use a little bit more work,” Jazrawy added. “It has become a useful exercise for a lot of them.”
In 2011, close to 90 carriers were nominated and evaluated as part of the program. It has created a boatload of work for CarriersEdge staffers, who run the program without outside help. What they affectionately refer to as “Best Fleets Season” now runs nearly 11 months of the year, from the time the program is organized until a seminar series that shares the best practices of the winners concludes in June.
“It has become a lot of work,” Murrell admitted. “It starts in August when we plan the opening with the TCA and ends in the beginning of June when the tour is done.”
In between, there’s promotion to be done, phone interviews and evaluations, the collection and tabulation of driver surveys and literature to be assembled. It culminates with the presentation of the awards at the TCA’s annual convention in the spring followed by the 11-city Canadian seminar series.
“One of the things we’re looking at now is, how do we streamline that?” Murrell said. “It becomes unsustainable for a free program, so we’re looking at streamlining it and automating it. How can we build a system that does a lot of this for us?”
With their roots as a technology company, that kind of project is right up their alleys. Jazrawy said the program was never intended to be revenue generating, but as it grows, they may have to charge a nominal fee for the reports to help offset the costs of producing them.
The skepticism and indifference the organizers initially faced seems to have given way to enthusiasm, especially as the economy has bounced back and the driver shortage has again reared its head. Companies are now calling the TCA and CarriersEdge out of the blue and asking how they can get involved. There have even been instances of carriers submitting fake nominations, which are easily spotted.
Despite taking on a life of its own and demanding an unforeseen amount of their time, Murrell and Jazrawy agree the program has been worthwhile, even if it hasn’t contributed to the bottom line of CarriersEdge.
“We just really wanted to start the conversation and I think we’ve done that,” Jazrawy said. While it’s difficult to measure how the program has improved the public’s perception of the industry, or for that matter, the industry’s perception of itself, both Jazrawy and Murrell have seen anecdotal evidence that good things have come from identifying the companies that do the best job at treating their drivers right. And that was the goal all along.
BEST FLEETS TOUR:
An 11-city Best Fleets to Drive For tour is set to begin soon. All half-day seminars are free to attend. They feature CarriersEdge president Mark Murrell sharing best practices and insights from the Best Fleets to Drive For competition.
The dates and locations for this year’s tour are as follows: May 1, Regina, Sask.; May 2, Saskatoon, Sask.; May 3, Winnipeg, Man.; May 9, Moncton, N.B.; May 10, Montreal, Que.; May 15, Windsor, Ont.; May 16, Toronto, Ont.; May 17, Ottawa, Ont.; May 30, Calgary, Alta.; May 31, Edmonton, Alta.; and June 5, London, Ont.
All seminars will run from 9 a.m. to noon, with refreshments provided. Admission is free, but advance registration is required. To register, contact Judi at 905-530-2430, or visit www.BestFleetsToDriveFor.com.