TORONTO, Ont. — It has been a dozen years since the Best Fleets to Drive For program was launched at the depth of the economic crisis, and organizers say they can’t believe how far the program has come. The Best Fleets program was the brainchild of Mark Murrell and Jane Jazrawy, who came to trucking from a tech background and were struck by how little the trucking industry was doing to promote itself as a good place to earn a living.
“We came from the tech industry and had seen a similar pressure with the run-up to Y2K and everybody scrambling for tech workers,” Murrell recalled. “We’d seen a labor crunch in another industry and we had observed in the tech industry that the companies that were recognized as the best employers were always the ones that got the pick of the litter and did better attracting higher-quality workers.”
Murrell and Jazrawy also noticed trucking companies were underrepresented in awards programs that highlighted top employers.
“We thought that if trucking is not going to be participating in these things, we should start one of our own that’s trucking-specific,” Murrell explained. “We really had no idea what to expect when we started it.”
The organizers, who own online driver training firm CarriersEdge, teamed with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) to bring the program to life. The program has blossomed into a year-round endeavor, and additional staff and resources have been brought on-board to manage the program. As the program has evolved, new trends and themes have emerged on a yearly basis.
This year, there will be more focus on the ratio of drivers to dispatchers and fleet managers. Participating fleets can also expect to be asked about how they manage pay-to-park and their natural disaster-readiness.
“What are their plans for addressing those, and for supporting drivers in their personal lives and professionally?” Murrell wants to know. “What are fleets doing to make it more of a business strategy?”
Fleets will also be asked how long their drivers are typically out on the road, and what a typical week looks like to their drivers. “We’re going to be drilling into that farther and asking specifically, ‘What constitutes a weekend in your fleet?” Murrell warned. “Everybody in the office has a proper weekend, what are you doing for drivers?”
When Best Fleets organizers conduct fleet surveys, they also want to know how drivers are treated at their terminals.
Do they have access to the same facilities as office staff? Do their benefits match?
When the program was launched a dozen years ago, Murrell said it was difficult to imagine how popular it would become. Fleets that place among the top 20 finishers have gone to great length to promote their accomplishment.
Some have even taken it too far – removing the year from the Best Fleets logo they’ve attached to their equipment, suggesting the award was given in perpetuity.
“It got to the point where we were threatening, ‘If we see this, we’re not only going to tell you to stop, but you’re going to be blacklisted,’” said Murrell.
But organizers encourage Best Fleets winners to promote their achievement – as long as it’s done above-board.
“They’re very proud of it and they want to advertise it,” he said. “We’ve seen people do billboards, trailer wraps, decals. That’s something we find really cool, when we’re driving somewhere down in the U.S. and we come across a truck that has a decal on it. It’s very fulfilling.”
A key part to the program is the sharing of best practices that follows the selection process. Through webinars and speaking engagements, Murrell and Jazrawy openly share what made the Best Fleets finalists and winners stand out.
Fleets are asked if they are okay with their success stories being shared, and most agree to do so.
“In general, people who are participating are more than willing to share ideas,” Murrell said.
And that could be improving the industry as a whole. In recent years, organizers have seen the emergence of guaranteed pay become more prevalent among the best-performing fleets. Such best practices often emerge first as anomalies among the best fleets, and in a few short years become commonplace. Asked if the Best Fleets program can be credited with improving working conditions for drivers across the industry, Murrell said “We like to think that it has. Our sense is we are seeing some changes. What we have noticed is, people have started having the language to describe some of these things.”
Rather than reciting tired phrases like “open door policy” and “treating drivers like family,” fleets are becoming more adept at explaining their best practices in more detail.
As the Best Fleets program continues to grow, and the level of competition among participants rises, Murrell encouraged newcomers to the program to not be discouraged if at first they don’t make the list of finalists. Few do.
“A common mistake we see is people giving up; thinking if they don’t make it after a year or two, there’s no point,” said Murrell. “It’s pretty common for people to go through this process a few times before they get on the list.”
To put it in perspective, there were 140 fleets nominated last year, with 90 making it through to the interview stage.
From there, the 20 finalists were chosen.
“You really have to have your stuff together to get onto that top 20,” Murrell said.
The program has also started a Fleets to Watch sub-category, to recognize fleets that were just shy of cracking the top 20. While it may seem daunting to crack the list of finalists, Murrell pointed out “There are new fleets on there every year. There are always a handful that drop off for various reasons and new ones added.”
A key to being successful in the program is to have buy-in from top management right through to drivers.
“You can’t get on the list without everybody working together,” said Murrell. “It’s a whole company effort.”
This year, Truck News has been given unprecedented, unfettered access behind the scenes of the Best Fleets to Drive For program. Its editors will be embedded into the program and will report regularly on the selection process, right through till the winners are announced at the Truckload Carriers Association’s Annual Convention in March.
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