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Driver turnover: Is plug and play the right way?

The issue of driver turnover has plagued the industry for over four decades now and it seems to me that trucking companies should have made better progress by now in bringing it under control. Fact is that many trucking companies see the published numbers coming from American Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance, and as long as they’re below what the estimated average for the industry is at that time, if they’re on the low side of it, they think their doing well. Its mass delusion and makes no sense to me, especially when the numbers usually hover around 100%, there is nothing normal about this situation.

I always find it enlightening to see what new ideas, industry suppliers come up with, these are very inventive folks, they try and entice companies to buy an off the shelf, solution to their the problem. I’ve seen many come and go over the years. Most are presented by well meaning folks who look at trucking with its turnover issues and see great opportunity, where there is pain there is opportunity to provide solution and to profit, it’s an industry on it own.

I call these purchase opportunities plug and plays because, although they may offer some short-term gain, they never really get to the core of the issue of driver turnover. I’m talking about the quick fixes that seem to be designed to attract and retain drivers through a new gimmick or the latest offering designed to have a driver believe that they will be happier at trucking company ABC because of the utility of the gimmick in play. I don’t want to identify the companies that provide these items and services because many of these plug and plays are quite good. There is a great number of these ideas or gimmicks that would work great if they were introduced in addition to the right effort, an effort to attack retention at its core, and not as a solution to driver turnover, because they’re not.

They say there is no magic bullet to this thing called driver turnover, I think that’s wrong, and there absolutely is a magic bullet. It’s not easy nor is it a quick fix but there is a cure, but as deep as the problem is, that’s how deep you need to get in your company, to start attacking driver turnover. You’ve got to strip it down and build it back up again, you’ve got to build it up on a firm foundation, and unfortunately many are just not interested in putting the kind of effort necessary to win at the effort.

I do not hold myself out as any kind of savant on this issue; I have been at the helm of a company that had 120% turnover. It was at a time when the company I was running was growing at an exponential rate and I just lost sight of what was going on with our turnover. Call it greed call it getting lost in the frenzy of the growth, distracted by the whirlwind; whatever it was the buck stopped with me, I let it get out of hand. Might sound a little cliché, but culture is a delicate thing and once it gets out of hand or off side, you’re in trouble, you’re on a slippery slope and you don’t even know it until it’s out of control.

The actions I took, was making driver turnover an issue that was worthy of our companies efforts to get it under control that is what gives me license to offer the advice that I do. We, and I mean we, myself as President my partner and our senior management team, took our driver turnover numbers from 120% to 20% turnover in under 24 months. We went from needing to hire 300 plus drivers to maintain a fleet of 275 trucks over a one year timeframe to needing to hire under 60 in twenty four months for a fleet size of 290 trucks.

We did this by starting at the start, no gimmicks, no plugins, no smoke and mirrors; we started by taking a good hard look in the mirror. We took responsibility for our situation, this is big for me, doesn’t matter what situations you or your business, change starts with acknowledgement that you did everything exactly right to be in the situation you are right now. Could be talking driver turnover, personal relationships, career status, whatever it is you need to own it, playing the blame game is for suckers and losers, you have to own it to change it, there is no other way.

We also secured the help of a very good consulting firm, from outside the industry, to ensure we got off to the right start with the effort. In addition we agreed as leadership that we were committed to each other to see this thing through because without that kind of rock solid commitment to the cause, it will falter. So that was our starting point, we were determined to get a handle on our situation and plot a path to rein in our out of control turnover. We had successes, we had failures we had stumbles, we had heroes and we had stars and we had to cut bait on some folks.

In the end the gains so outpaced the sacrifice, it was amazing and in retrospect we could have called it a safety initiative, because our accident rate plummeted and so did our insurance cost. We could have called it a profitability initiative because as we streamlined our processes to become driver centric, we also became much more efficient and also much more profitable. Bottom line, if and when you decided that high turnover is within your control and you can get a handle on it, you will see gains that you never expected and wonder why you haven’t done this before now….







Ray Haight

Ray Haight

Mr. Ray Haight has enjoyed a successful career in transportation starting as a company driver and Owner Operator logging over one million accident free miles prior to starting his own company. After stepping down from a successful career managing one of Canada’s 50 largest trucking companies, Ray focused on industry involvement including terms as Chairman of each of the following, the Truckload Carriers Association, Professional Truck Drivers Institute, North American Training and Management Institute and the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities voluntary apprenticeship of Tractor Trailer Commercial Driver, along with many other business interests, he enjoys a successful consulting business, also sitting on various Boards of both industry associations a private motor carriers. He is also Co-Founder of StakUp O/A TCAinGauge an online bench marking service designed to assist trucking companies throughout North America focus on efficiency and profitability within their operations.
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6 Comments » for Driver turnover: Is plug and play the right way?
  1. John Rozema says:

    You are excacty correct, and if companies do not start soon there will be no one around that would consider driving as a career.

  2. Phil says:

    The only thing going to keep a driver around is money, Good Benefits and ample days off…
    (Vacation sick days personal days etc) why is this never mentioned in these articles?

  3. Lucien Bleau says:

    Wow!!! We have had a driver shortage for a few years now. Has anyone given any thought to a shortage of good paying driving jobs?

    I recall when Bradley was complaining of a shortage of 52,000 drivers. I pointed out to him to raise the wages/rates and some of the 110,000 holders of Class 1 drivers that no longer drove for a living might just come back.

  4. Bronson says:

    In terms of driver benefits, would reserved parking at truck stops help ease life and if companies offered more nights spent in a hotel room versus nights in the truck.

  5. Bill Penner says:

    The trucking industry has made it’s money over the years on the backs of drivers and I don’t see the industry’s me me me attitude changing any time soon. I work for a large carrier and they hire drivers right out of school. Once these people get a good look at what’s expected of them they usually bolt after a week or two of training and who could blame them? Where else but trucking can you work for nothing? I believe the pay schedule is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Mileage is ok I guess but waiting time in docks and delays at the border have to be compensated without filling out a damn form and hoping. I was there, you saw the whole thing, pay me. Simple. Companies know exactly where drivers are at all times and for how long so they need to quit farting around and pay the hell up. Name another industry where you might get paid or you might not on a whim. Who would want to work under such conditions? The driver shortage is no surprise to everyone but the trucking companies. I’d like to see this federally regulated BS disappear too. We drivers are human beings and it’s long overdue that we are treated as such. 32 yr. veteran. I could go on for hours but rant over.

  6. Kurt says:

    Any “issue” that has existed for 4 decades is not an issue, but is an accepted management practice. The fact that the author was able to reduce turnover from 120% to 20% proves that it is not an issue, but a matter of management choice, there is no shortage.

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