How to become a “driver-centric” carrier

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You would be hard pressed to find a trucking company that does not claim to be “driver-centric”. Take a look at recruiting ads and you will see that there are a ton of companies out there that “treat you like family” or “you are a name, not a number”.

There are so many companies that offer “industry leading pay rates” and “top of the line equipment”. Throw in “lots of home time” and “open-door policy” and it makes you wonder why companies even have to worry about finding qualified drivers. Based on all these claims, drivers should be lining up at the door.

The problem is that most of these claims are wildly inaccurate. Sometimes it is wishful thinking and sometimes it is purely made up. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to advertise “below market rates” or “equipment that is prone to breakdown”, but you’d think that trucking companies would have a few legit features to attract quality candidates. In my mind, the most attractive feature is being a “driver-centric” carrier.

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(Illustration: iStock)

What does it mean to be driver-centric? In short, it means drivers can earn a reasonable living, while working a schedule that suits their life in an environment that is both welcoming and respectful to them. Trucking companies do not decide when they have become driver-centric, the drivers decide that for you. It’s similar to any other type of reputation, in that it often takes quite a bit of time to earn.

Becoming driver-centric starts at the top of the company and works its way down. Any recruiter that wants to enjoy any type of sustainable success will need to care greatly about the drivers, but this is not enough. You need ownership to be on board, then this funnels down to the general manager, the operations manager, through dispatch and even needs buy-in from safety, accounting and reception.

Furthermore, caring for drivers has to be genuine. If a general manager says all the right things when they are face to face with a driver, but behind closed doors thinks that they are easily replaceable, or “just a driver”, this will be noticed and felt throughout the whole company.

A good company will not only listen to feedback from its drivers, but will give them a platform or opportunity in which to provide feedback. They will actually take action on whatever this feedback is, in order to provide solutions.

Not all ideas from drivers are practical, but follow-up and communication are imperative to let a driver know they have been heard. When a driver helps to implement positive change, their employer should make sure they get recognition for it. The feeling of teamwork and contributing to the company’s overall success goes a long way in making the driver feel like a valuable part of the organization.

The recruiter/retention specialist, along with the dispatch team, needs to become a voice for the driver and fight for what they need. Sometimes this can cause some short-term conflict with the ops team, but it will help greatly to improve retention numbers.

Another thing to consider is if your service areas are driver-centric. Most pay structures compensate drivers by the mile (which is antiquated, but more on that another day), so it is best to set up your drivers to run as many miles as possible.

This can be done through trailer switches, paperwork being done ahead of time, and minimizing downtime due to equipment malfunction. Ask your drivers what type of runs they like, what their ideal schedule looks like, if there is a particular customer or area that they prefer, etc. If you have a brokerage division, see if any of the freight you are selling would be a match for what your own drivers desire.

It is easy for office staff to forget to consider the driver’s perspective. If you are unsure if a driver likes a particular run, ask them about it. Actively listen to their explanation as to what makes the work desirable and try your best to cater to it. Alternatively, ask what makes it undesirable and how can it be improved.

Becoming driver-centric doesn’t happen overnight, but your efforts to become driver-centric can start today.

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Mike Zelek has been working in transportation for more than 10 years. He has worked in logistics, dispatch and recruiting before settling into his role as vice-president of human resources at Wellington Group of Companies.

Mike was named the National Recruiter of the Year at the National Recruiting and Retention Symposium in 2021 and has led Wellington to three straight years of being named one of the Truckload Carriers Association's Best Fleets to Drive For.

He has presented at many industry events and currently volunteers on several transportation related committees.

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