Fleets filling seats with flexible work for truck drivers

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A bird in the hand is said to be worth two in the bush, but two birds in a bush might be even more valuable if you can get them to work for you. Consider fleets that are realizing the benefits to offering part-time flexible work to drivers who don’t want full-time positions. Two part-timers can be even more productive than one full-timer.

For rookies, one of the toughest aspects of trucking is adjusting to time away from home. Ask any fleet recruiter or driving school and they will agree that a lot of potential candidates wash out within a year because of family pressures related to time away.

As they age, many truck drivers also want to slow down a little, maybe work locally or regionally rather than longhaul. If these drivers can’t find some way to make a job work for them, they head for the door.

But some fleets are finding that fewer hours or miles, and shorter turnarounds, are a good way to keep that talent on board.

truck drivers
Fleets are finding ways to offer truck drivers flexible working arrangements. (Photo: Jim Park)

“We have some part-time drivers that come in and do a trip or two a month, while some months they don’t work at all,” says Geoff Topping, Challenger Motor Freight’s vice-president – people and culture. “We’ve made it as flexible as we can to accommodate them.”

Topping acknowledges the competition for drivers is huge right now, so he and his staff are open to almost any arrangement they can make to keep drivers happy and coming back to work.

Such arrangements could include two part-timers on a truck rotating a trip out, and trip off, or several days on followed by several days off. Another possible combination is a three-way team where each driver does two weeks away while the third enjoys a week off. The off-duty driver replaces one of the working drivers while the other finishes the second week of the rotation.

“We’ve made it as flexible as we can to accommodate them.”

– Geoff Topping, Challenger Motor Freight

Fleets with terminals in various parts of the country can conveniently run terminal-to-terminal switches with part-time drivers working a few days on and few days off, rather than a full 70-hour week.

Ayr Motor Express in Woodstock, N.B., has a group of what it calls relief drivers who fill in for the full-time drivers so they can get their rest or reset their hours.

“At Ayr, we share our equipment,” says Melinda Thornton, director of human resources. “We’re set up so that we have a driver assigned to every truck, but when the assigned driver gets out, we put a relief driver on the truck and keep the equipment moving.”

Thornton says the relief drivers can be full-time or part-time, and they can work as much or as little as they choose.

“We’ll know, for example, the assigned driver will be home for, say, four days, so we dispatch the truck with a relief driver on a four-day trip,” she says. “When the relief driver returns, the assigned driver gets back on the truck. The relief driver can go back out on another truck if they want — or go home. That’s where the flexibility comes in.”

Slip seating

Thornton is careful not to use the S-word. In a true slip-seating operation, a driver gets into a different truck every shift. Ayr’s full-time drivers have dedicated trucks, but someone else will drive the truck while the assigned driver is home enjoying some time off. When the driver returns to work, they get their truck back.

The company has rules about keeping the trucks clean and they also offer smoking and non-smoking trucks. Drivers know what their responsibilities are, and she says everybody respects that, but sometimes, she adds, “my version of clean might be different from yours.

“We actually have cleaners that will go through and give [the truck] a more detailed cleaning to make sure that when the next driver gets in it’s acceptable,” Thornton says.  

There’s a hierarchy of priorities here. Obviously, all drivers would like a truck of their own to drive, but few fleets can afford to leave trucks parked against the fence while the driver is off. In Ayr’s case, the relief drivers know they won’t get a steady truck, but they also realize they are getting good clean equipment and the option to work when they want.

Ayr has three people dedicated to keeping all its trucks moving, which requires tracking drivers’ holiday requests, keeping track of when they want to run and when they’d prefer to stay home. Adding the scheduling dimension isn’t that much of a hurdle. There’s some expense, Thornton admits, but it pays for itself in many other ways.

“We’re in the business of moving freight, and while another company might be okay with letting that truck set for three or four days or a week, we see high utilization as part of our business model,” she says. “That would put a lot of pressure on the drivers to get going again, but because we have other drivers to run that truck, our drivers have more control over their home time.”

Sourcing part-timers

What fleet wouldn’t want to hire qualified, experienced drivers wanting full-time miles or hours, and ready to make a full-time commitment to the company? Apparently, such drivers are getting a little tough to find. Do you leave a truck unseated hoping Mr. or Ms. Right will waltz right into that open door, or maybe look at sourcing older part-time drivers who come with years of experience and full qualifications?

Challenger has a significant contingent of drivers who have “summer jobs” in construction, road building, or agriculture. They drive Challenger equipment from November to May.

“That is working out well for us,” Topping says. “We also have some part-time that come in and do a trip a month kind of thing, or maybe some months they work two weeks. Some months they don’t work at all. We’ve made it as flexible as we can to accommodate people’s work preferences.”

You might be thinking it’s easy for a big company like Challenger or Ayr Motor Express to juggle part-time drivers, but Liberty Linehaul in Ayr, Ont., is making it work, too. Teresa Barclay, Liberty’s human resources manager, told TruckNews.com they have two “regular” part-time drivers.

“One is a fellow who once owned his own small fleet, but just wants to work a little bit. The other is a retired firefighter.”

– Teresa Barclay, Liberty Linehaul

“One is a fellow who once owned his own small fleet, but just wants to work a little bit. The other is a retired firefighter,” she says. “We also have a few part-timers we can call to fill in if a driver is looking to take some vacation time or has to book off for one reason or another. It’s a bit of strain relief when things get tight.”

Liberty is regarded as a pretty good company to work for, so its turnover is pretty low. That said, Barclay noted that there a few senior drivers who are slowing down the pace a little and looking to work maybe three weeks out of a month rather than four. The availability of part-times drivers helps them accommodate the senior drivers’ desires without compromising equipment utilization.

Older drivers are one source of part-time help. As they age, many drivers look to slow down a little. If the financial planning is paying off, they might not need the high level of income younger drivers need and enjoy. Given the possibility of losing an older experienced driver to full retirement, have you considered offering them part-time work?

Various shift workers that often wind up with several consecutive days off are also good candidates. Police officers, paramedics, health care workers, even airline pilots work shifts that make them compatible with truck fleets looking to temporarily fill a seat.

Because of their other commitments, they may be able to accept only predictable runs, like short intercity movements, like Toronto to Montreal or Winnipeg to Calgary. Complex multi-drop trips might be more of a commitment than they can comfortably make.

A two-way street

Phil Marwood, who is now a recruitment specialist with Headwater Transport, Pioneer Truck Lines, and Fox’s Transport once worked part-time hauling long combination vehicles between Winnipeg and Regina. He’d go one way one night and come back the next. He wasn’t looking for a pot of gold but found two short nights of work paid fairly well and met his needs at the time.

“I’ve spoken with a couple of big carriers that are offering ‘part-time’ work to drivers,” Marwood says. “They say it’s better to have two drivers on a truck who are happy with the arrangements than having an unseated truck parked along the fence. I can’t argue with that, but with the distances involved in Canada, I can’t see it bring widely adopted by fleets.”

“I’m just worried that our ops people might try to push him back into full-time, which he doesn’t want.”

– Vaughn Hatcher, Classic Freight Systems

Back in Atlantic Canada, Vaughn Hatcher, the recruiting manager at Classic Freight Systems in Dartmouth, says it rare to see smaller over-the-road companies offering part-time work. He says he can see it working for the Midlands and Armours of the world, but many companies in his neck of the woods rely on the triangular routes from the Maritimes to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard or Midwest, back to Toronto and home, or back into the U.S. to complete the route in reverse.

So many things can go wrong on trips like that, it could sometimes be difficult to get a driver home by a promised date. When we spoke with Hatcher, he said they were working with a 35-year veteran driver who was looking for a week off each month. They were trying it out to see how it works.

“He’s a great guy. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s a real asset,” Hatcher says. “I’m just worried that our ops people might try to push him back into full-time, which he doesn’t want.”

All the contributors to this story agreed that opening the doors to flexible shifts and part-time work also requires some commitment on the part of the driver. When they declare themselves available for work, they really need to honor that obligation.

“I would definitely recommend carriers consider part-time as an option, but it need to be well organized,” says Barclay. “We ask them to give us a schedule of when they are available to work so that we can prepare for that. It doesn’t work well if we start calling our five part time guys, and they all say no.”

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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  • I’m interested to apply on your company as Truck driver and im willing to undergo training

  • Hi sir I dream of a truck driver someday and handle a different kinds of trucks I hope you can help me reach my dream..thank you and more power in your office..

  • Back in the ‘olden days’ this scheme was referred to as ‘slip-seating’. A bad idea then and it still is. What if the other driver is a pig? A professional driver won’t work in a pig sty.

    • I did work for AYR and was very pleased they have a way to make sure if a driver is a pig he will pay for the truck clean up .
      Their units are top shape and slip seating is watch it is.
      The units are near inside no nothing fridge microwave or inverters
      It is ok for some and different for other.
      It is an excellent company to work for.

  • I worked part time long haul with two different companies for over 20 years. The first company I worked for were very accommodating with me working part time. I had a full time shift work job that allowed me time off to drive truck. The way it worked was I would make up a trucking schedule for the summer season. I would show up and off I would go. I was very proud to work for that company. The problem was that it would take me four hours to clean the truck cab so I could get in without wearing coveralls. I am very fussy and take pride in my ride. I put up with arrangement for 15 years. I did so because I was hired part time and had a good relationship with everyone there. The first company was bought out by a big carrier and they took me on as part time long haul. It worked well. The difference was that the second company had their truck cabs detailed after a driver left. I was in heaven. I had a showroom clean truck each time each time I worked for them. I was very proud to be part of this company. This is where a problem would lie with me if I shared a truck with another part time driver. Would my truck share partner have the same high standards for cleanliness as me ? If not I would be out of there. I have been in relief trucks while mine was being repaired where I had to put cardboard on the floor to keep my feet clean. Sharing trucks is a super way of keeping laid up trucks working. But, will it work with driver’s of different cleanliness standards. Food for thought.

  • That’s a great idea but the driver’s of this day and age have no idea what pride in your ride means . If there was a company in Abbotsford that offered a clean truck for part time, I would be interested. Until then I will have fun riding the harley.