HAMILTON, Ont. –The worst recession the Canadian trucking industry has faced in decades may soon be behind us, but it has claimed its share of victims.
Many owner/operators have left the industry -voluntarily or otherwise -and the competition for drivers will be fierce as freight volumes pick back up, predicts Ray Haight, past chair of the Truckload Carriers Association and executive director of MacKinnon Transport.
“As we do come out of this recession, think of what’s going to happen when we’re looking for drivers,” he said during a recent Driving for Profit seminar, hosted by KRTS Transportation Specialists and NAL Insurance. “It’s going to get goofy…there’s going to be blood in the streets.”
To that end, it’s critical to once again focus on attracting and retaining quality drivers, Haight suggested before sharing some tips that have been successfully employed by MacKinnon Transport, recognized as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies.
One thing the best-run companies have in common is their willingness to invest in their people, Haight pointed out. However in the trucking industry, ongoing driver training is often overlooked.
“When you think about drivers and how much we really invest in them, we’re not using our heads,” he charged. “We’re not talking huge investments here, but the ROI on those investments is massive.”
He noted there’s a 30% fuel economy gap between the best and worst performing drivers in any given fleet, yet companies rarely provide training on progressive shifting and other tricks to maximize fuel economy. The same can be said for business training for owner/operators, he added.
“We know the majority of owner/ operators out there are not businesspeople,” he said. “They are individuals who bought a truck -they’re not good businesspeople. They want to own that asset and they want it in the driveway, they want to polish it and go to truck shows but only 20% of these guys ever worry about looking at a financial statement.”
Haight said it’s been proven that owner/operators who take the time to review and understand a monthly profit-and-loss (P&L) statement typically earn between five and 12 cents per mile more than those who do not.
“At 120,000 miles per year, that’s $15,000 to $20,000 and all they’re doing is paying attention to their business,” he said.
Many carriers fail to offer training opportunities because they assume drivers and O/Os are uninterested.
However, he recalled some success stories from MacKinnon that proved otherwise. In one case, the company placed desktop computers in a common area with training programs available on topics such as customer service and safety.
“We had 30% of our drivers go in on their own and start taking these courses,” he recalled. “They wanted the knowledge, there’s no doubt about it.”
Likewise, when fuel began to spike and MacKinnon required its 100 company drivers to undergo additional training on fuel economy and defensive driving, only one driver resisted.
“We had one complaint out of 100, and most of these guys were 20-year veterans,” he said. “They loved it. These guys were sponges; they wanted to learn more about the industry and to see changes. They want to do it better and they want to do it smarter.”
To ensure drivers stick around once freight volumes pick back up and attractive signing bonuses once again become the norm, Haight said it’s important to identify why drivers are leaving your company in the first place.
He said MacKinnon measured driver turnover 30 different ways to identify trends.
Some of the reasons drivers are leaving may be easy to fix, such as working with a shipper to make it more driver-friendly.
MacKinnon would poll its drivers on the best and worst shippers to deliver to and it rewarded the most driver-friendly customers with a plaque and visited the worst performers to see how things such as wait times could be improved.
Haight also said driver turnover can be reduced by hiring better drivers in the first place.
He suggested identifying your company’s “blue-chippers” and then look for commonalities when evaluating prospective new hires. Whatever you do, don’t relax hiring criteria when freight rebounds, warned Haight, speaking from experience.
“I did that once,” he admitted. “Don’t break your rules when freight comes back and you want another 100 trucks. We started hitting stuff, accidents crept up. We’d rather not be able to give the shipper everything they want than bend our hiring practices.”
-Drivers will soon once again be in demand -just don’t call it a driver shortage. For Ray’s thoughts on the so-called driver shortage, see his blog on www.Trucknews.com.