Much has been written in recent years about the looming driver shortage in North America. While there are still millions of people unemployed in Canada and the United States, only a limited number of people are willing to drive a truck for a living. There are a range of issues that are creating this situation. The driver lifestyle involves sitting in a rig for many hours a day and for certain assignments, being away from family for days or weeks on end. This produces a set of challenges with respect to maintaining a healthy diet, performing regular exercise and achieving consistent sleep.
Then there are the challenges of supporting a family at current compensation levels, the reductions in pay precipitated by the Great Recession and the new hours of service regulations that can restrict one’s income generating potential. With annual driver turnover running at close to 90 percent, clearly quality freight transport drivers are being actively courted. They are not hesitating to “jump ship” and provide their services to another organization if the “grass looks greener’” across the street. The high turnover ratios suggest that many drivers are disillusioned after they make their selection and so the cycle of hiring and leaving keeps repeating itself.
Most blogs and articles talk about how to recruit drivers. Very few focus on helping drivers find the right trucking company to work for. To address this question, I reached out to a panel of drivers with whom I have corresponded in the past. The panel included Desiree Wood, Harry Rudolphs, Stephen Large and David Robson. Listed below are a set of suggestions from the five of us. Hopefully these questions will help drivers make better employment decisions and reduce the costly turnover ratio.
There are two distinct groups of people to whom this blog is addressed. The first group is those people who are considering a job as a professional truck driver. Then there is the group of drivers who are currently seeking to change employers.
A. People Considering Taking a Job as a Truck Driver
The following are the issues that this group needs to consider. Thank you to Harry Rudolphs for many of these questions.
1. Do you like driving, would you like spending 8 or 10 hours a day behind the wheel of a vehicle and can you imagine doing this on a daily basis?
2. Are you aware of the health risks that come with sitting for many hours a day? Dr. David Angus, a US based oncologist argued on Fareed Zakaria GPS last week that sitting for much of the day is equivalent to smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day, in terms of the increased risk of getting cancer.
3. Can you read a map?
4. Can you follow instructions rigorously without deviating when it comes to a something like a circle check?
5. Are you mechanically inclined?
6. Do you like being around heavy equipment?
7. Can you work unsupervised and on your own for lengthy periods of time?
8. Do you have problem solving skills and can you stay calm while under pressure?
9. Do you have a wife/husband and family, are you planning on having a wife/husband and family and how would they feel about you being away for days at a time?
10. How would you feel about being away from your family for blocks of time on an ongoing basis?
11. Do you suffer from sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder that could potentially put your life in jeopardy while you are behind the wheel?
12. Would you be able to maintain good eating habits and get regular exercise on a continuous basis if you take on this lifestyle?
13. Have you spoken with any existing drivers about the lifestyle and compensation?
“It is good for the new driver to ask questions, questions and more questions from veteran drivers to acquire a picture of how the industry really works and how to obtain a good employer,” stated David Robson. Are you comfortable with what you heard? How does the compensation compare with what you could earn in other industries? After answering all of the questions above, is this the right profession for you? There are thousands of men and women throughout North America who drive a truck for a living. Many of them love it.
B. Current Truck Drivers Looking for a New Employer
1. Do you understand the full compensation package at your potential new employer and can you earn a reasonable living?
The trucking magazines are filled with ads looking for company drivers and owner-operators. The ads include $3000 “signing bonuses” and $1.24 per loaded mile, paid benefits, “no slip seating” and a host of other perks. Your first step is to sort through the maze of numbers and words so as to determine exactly what you will be doing and what you will be paid. “Also find out how the pay schedule works and get everything in writing, especially to do with holdbacks and deductions,” stated Stephen Large. Make a realistic estimate of the number of miles you will be driving and make a thoughtful analysis as to whether or not you can earn a reasonable living under the carrier’s proposed pay package.
2. Is the Company profitable?
Ask them if they are making money. They may lie to you but you should ask the question anyway. If they don’t give you a straight answer, ask them if their business is growing and what big new accounts have they added over the past year. Are they holding on to their business? The last thing you want to do is join a company, have them fail two months later and then have to start the process all over again.
3. Does the company do something better than everybody else?
This is an important issue. Ask the question and see how the trucking company responds. If they don’t give you a crisp, clear answer, be wary. There are lots of “me too” companies – – – companies that do the same thing as everybody else but not as well. They may not be around for too long.
Also, ask them about their average rate per mile that they charge their customers. If their rates are low, they may not be able to pay you a top dollar and they may skimp in other areas.
4. Will you be doing the kind of driving you are looking for – city cartage, local province or state, province to province or state to state, cross-border?
Ask the question, what percent of the time will you be doing the type of driving that you want to do. If you receive a “wishy-washy” answer, this is an alarm bell that you will not be happy down the road. David Robson suggested that you ask your prospective employer, “Where do they travel, who are the customers, how much waiting time is involved?”
Desiree Wood commented that she is “seeing a lot of carriers advertise local jobs out of certain towns on Craigslist. I know darn well these carriers do not have local jobs. They are doing a ‘bait and switch’ and often get the driver out there knowing this person was not looking to do OTR (. . . over the road . . .). It really makes the entire industry look bad to be treating people like this. Drivers who need to do local work need to realize that means doing . . . (work) . . . like multi stop food deliveries. That is the trade off if you need to be home for family events. If I need to be home from an OTR job, I schedule my arrival several days before I have made any plans to attend family events or doctor appointments. There are just no guarantees in OTR driving and the expense to come off the road takes a few weeks to recover as well.”
5. Will your job fit with your lifestyle?
Will you be home for your wife’s/husband’s and kids’ birthdays, hockey games, soccer games or music recitals? Will it help or hurt your marriage or relationship? Will you have quality of life? Being away from home for days at a time is not healthy for certain relationships.
6. Is the company focused on Safety?
You want to work for a company that is obsessed with Safety – – -a company the supplies quality equipment, quality training and quality maintenance. You want to work for a company that takes pride in its CSA and CVR scores. You want to work for a company that puts the safety of its employees first – – – that ensures you are always driving late model, well maintained equipment. As David Robson suggested, make sure to ask about how the company maintains its fleet. It is your life and your career so you want to work for a company that is concerned about your safety.
“Reading the CSA score of a carrier is helpful,” commented Desiree. “When I see a carrier that has bad scores for driver fatigue and faulty equipment, I know that despite a better paying driving job, this carrier is pushing drivers and running them into the ground. My Advice . . . keep looking for another carrier because this place is not a home.”
7. Do their dispatchers have good people skills?
These are the people you will be working with all day and all week long. Speak to drivers that work for the company you are looking at. Are their dispatchers fair or do they play favourites? Do they know how to speak to their drivers or do their drivers dislike them? Is that why they are speaking to you – – – they have high turnover? Do your homework.
“There are dispatchers who have great people skills that still provoke drivers with a smarmy attitude. These are the worst but they are “closers” and that is why the carrier hired them,” stated Desiree. “It is a battle of wits. Can the dispatcher get the driver to do something to increase ‘performance’ using some form of verbal persuasion? Dispatchers are often like telemarketers in a boiler room. They are sometimes paid a bonus to get drivers to perform and this is not in line with safety but they will recite right out of the FMCSA I love safety handbook all day long. The carrier’s management is responsible for the way they have designed the conflicts of interest between the safety department, dispatchers/load planners and the drivers. You are supposed to all be on one team working together but this is really not how it is when bonuses or commissions are being paid to in-house support to use verbal judo tactics to get drivers to do things that are against their best judgment. A pleasant liar is much more dangerous in my opinion.”
8. Does the company expect you to perform work practices that are in violation of the law?
“There are better paying carriers but they . . . (do their) . . . scheduling in a way that makes it impossible to not be driving fatigued, pushing your luck with the regulations and making your appointments on time. Unfortunately without any truth in recruiting accountability, there is really no way to know if you are trading low pay for a carrier that pays more and expects you to break the law until you have invested your time, energy and money to give them a try . . . Unless you could collect data from shippers/receivers/drivers on how a carrier performs and conducts itself as the support entity of what occurs in the field, I would not believe any claims made about one carrier being “better” than another,” commented Desiree Wood. Try to speak with some drivers at your prospective employer to see if they expect you to work beyond the scope of the law.
9. If you are being asked to perform cross-border driving, do you understand the terms and conditions of employment?
“Clarifying pay to go to Canada would be very important because of the wait times to cross the border. There is really so much to try to remember. When you are dealing with a pleasant recruiter that has a quick answer, you tend to put your guard down. You really don’t find out how many “up to” and “can make” remarks were slid in there until you are seeing your settlement,” stated Desiree.
10. What are the working relationships like in the company?
“Much of a driver’s success with a company, as with any company or any industry is the ability for the driver and the people he has to deal with (dispatchers, HR, mechanics, customers) to have a good working relationship. This I find is why many drivers quit trucking companies,” observed David Robson.
11. Are there Opportunities for Advancement?
Many of today’s trucking firms are owned and operated by people like you – – – people who started driving a truck and who were able to rise to the top. How many of the company’s top management are people who rose within the organization? Is this a company that continuously hires from outside because they don’t develop people internally? You need to find out.
Also, “find out if there is an “open door policy” where drivers are able to walk in and talk to the owners/managers whenever they feel that the front line people are not doing the job that they should be,” stated Stephen Large.
Good luck. This is a great industry. If you work hard, for the right company, you can have a great career in trucking.
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