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An effective retention program begins with the recruitment process

KING CITY, Ont. -- Does your company have a driver retention problem, or is it actually a recruitment issue? Tamara Miller, director of programs and services with Trucking HR Canada said the two causes of turnover should not be lumped together....


KING CITY, Ont. — Does your company have a driver retention problem, or is it actually a recruitment issue? Tamara Miller, director of programs and services with Trucking HR Canada said the two causes of turnover should not be lumped together. She noted an exodus of drivers within the first six months of employment generally points to a recruitment issue, while retention weaknesses may be to blame if drivers are leaving after six months on the job.

Three fleet managers speaking on a panel later that day entitled Driver Selection and Retention Programs that Work, agreed that retaining drivers starts with the recruitment process. The panel, assembled at the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s annual convention, included: Mike Millian, Hensall District Co-op; Mark Mostacci, TDL Group (Tim Horton’s); and David Marvin of Praxair.

All three fleets boast an intensive on-boarding process, that in the case of TDL Group, includes an initial phone interview that may seem like it’s designed to chase job applicants away.

“I try to talk them out of the job and tell them the worst it has to offer,” Mostacci said. TDL Group placed a renewed focus on driver retention in 2011, in part by tightening the hiring process and filtering out drivers who are unlikely to last. The company’s turnover rate was 11.68% in 2006, had dropped to 6.9% by 2011 and then to 1.84% in 2012 as a result of the initiative. First-year turnover went from 1.89% in 2011 to 0.61% in 2012, and Mostacci said that first year at Tim Horton’s is often the hardest, because drivers are required to put in time on the relief board and never know where they’re heading.

“If you’re a relief driver for the first six months, it’s kind of hell,” Mostacci admitted. “You could be shunting trailers one day and going up north the next day.” Drivers are told to bring an overnight bag to work, with no indication of where they’ll be headed.

To drive down turnover, TDL Group placed more emphasis on the hiring process, beginning with a more detailed phone interview as well as a predictive index assessment that revealed a prospective hire’s likelihood to succeed. A road test and assessment, criminal check, reference checks and a physical evaluation are all part of the hiring process.

Meanwhile, TDL Group also focused internally to ensure it had the people in place to create a positive workplace. This meant ensuring dispatchers and managers actually like working with drivers.

“If they don’t like drivers, they aren’t going to be sympathetic about what happens to a driver on the road,” Mostacci said.

The company also ensures drivers have top-notch equipment to operate, including mostly Volvo tractors with the I-Shift automated transmission. Electronic on-board recorders are used at Timmies and Mostacci said “We have had a lot of drivers come to us and thank us for running EOBRs.”

By driving down turnover, the company has also seen its safety record improve. Its CVOR violation rate is now 8.6%, said Mostacci, the lowest it’s ever been. “Not long ago, we were in the high 20s,” he added, indicating turnover and safety sometimes do go hand-in-hand.

For Praxair, driver turnover isn’t a huge concern, according to Marvin. The company has 120 Canadian truck drivers and most stay with the company until retirement. However, the aging workforce and a shrinking labour pool have required Praxair to work harder to find qualified replacements for retiring drivers.

“Five to six years ago if we were hiring in a location like Oakville, we’d put it out (by word of mouth) that we were looking for a driver and we’d get 30-40 applications,” Marvin said. “This is getting much more difficult for us. Demand is increasing, especially in provinces like Alberta. We’ve had to change our advertising methods. We’re now starting to use the Internet, job fairs, newspaper ads and we’re soliciting from outside the province at times.”

Praxair has also loosened its hiring criteria. While it used to require five years of experience, including bulk tanker, it is now accepting drivers with three years’ experience, and not necessarily with tankers.

That’s not to say it’s easy to get on with Praxair. The company still has a rigorous screening process that consists of two formal interviews with multiple staff, including, at times, other drivers.

“What we’re looking for and what is a key component to our success is the attitude the driver has right from the beginning,” Marvin said. “We can teach anyone how to run a hydraulic system, but if he doesn’t have a safe attitude right from the beginning, it’s going to be much more difficult.”

Once a driver is hired, Praxair drivers are put through an exhaustive on-boarding process that begins with a week of in-class training. This is followed by two to four weeks of field training, where they shadow an experienced driver. By the second week, the new hire begins operating the trailer equipment and by the third or fourth week may begin driving.

Another evaluation is conducted before the driver is turned loose on their own. And it doesn’t end there. Marvin said drivers still have monthly safety meetings and undergo a further driving evaluation each year.

At Hensall Distric Co-op, Millian said the hiring process includes a 1.5-hour road test, which includes coupling/uncoupling, pre-trip inspection, backing, etc. New hires are put through online training and a two-day in-class orientation program. That’s followed by a minimum of two days with a driver mentor.

Since the hiring processes at these three fleets are so rigorous, it only makes sense to put together a retention program that will keep the good drivers hanging around. At Hensall, that includes a quarterly bonus program (see related story, pg. XX), annual barbecues and Christmas parties for staff and their families, paid attendance at safety meetings, a family skating party, a pension plan and benefits, and a clothing and work boot allowance.

Praxair offers a benefits package, savings plan, safety awards and fuel incentives, years of service awards, uniforms, new equipment (its trade-in cycle is three to five years), opportunities for career advancement and even covers the cost of licence renewals.

“Small things like that mean a lot to the drivers,” Marvin said.

However, perhaps the biggest incentive to stay on with these companies is a shared commitment to safety. Drivers, Marvin said, know they will have “safe working conditions through to retirement. They’re going to retire here and they’re not going to be injured. They’re going to operate safely and go home every night.”


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