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Hi-tech hiring

Trucking company recruiters face a dilemma with every new hire. One problem is that some applicants with tons of experience can be high-maintenance employees and become easily disgruntled, quick to pack up and go across the road at the first...

Trucking company recruiters face a dilemma with every new hire. One problem is that some applicants with tons of experience can be high-maintenance employees and become easily disgruntled, quick to pack up and go across the road at the first disagreement with management. While other candidates, with little experience and often fresh out of driving school, can be exemplary team players and a great company asset for years to come.

And then there are preventable accidents, which every safety manager would like to reduce to zero. Why is it that some drivers seem to be accident-prone while others never seem to have any incidents? Is it possible to hire drivers that almost never have preventable accidents?

Personality-based assessments have been widely used by human resources managers as a pre-employment screening tool for a couple of decades, and the strategy appears to be gaining momentum. A friend of mine applying for an assembly line job at Toyota in Cambridge, Ont., had to take two of these before being granted an interview.

The concept is fairly simple. These are usually non-cognitive quizzes or questionnaires that are the first step in hiring a new employee. The tests take only 10-20 minutes and are usually delivered online. They don’t require much thinking. The results can be quickly tabulated and point out an applicant’s competencies or deficiencies in several categories.

But the concept of behaviour profiling has been slow to gain traction in the trucking sector. This may change quickly as a few providers are looking at trucking as virgin territory. And case studies suggest that pre-screening commercial drivers might give employers a leg up when hiring off the street.

The science behind behaviourism can be traced back to Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, who made a dog salivate by ringing a bell. The discoverer of the famous “conditioned response” showed that behaviours occur as a response to one’s environment. Behaviourism holds that all behaviours are acquired and can be observed and studied.

There are literally thousands of these personal assessment products available, but I only found three that are specifically geared towards motor transport. The procedures are usually inexpensive and can often be tweaked to meet the employers’ job specifications.

The JOBehaviors assessment I took was tailored for either long- or short-haul drivers and presented a series of about 100 questions with two possible answers set out in apposition. Available in English, Spanish or French, the applicant chooses which answer best suits the question. There are no wrong answers.

According to JOBehaviours president Mark Tinney: “Our assessments are based on specific behaviours identified by top performers that directly impact performance and retention. We focus directly on the behaviours (micro-competencies) that account for performance outcomes. Our process generates nearly 500 behaviours (from top performers in the field).”

I scored four out of five stars on this quiz and evidently that qualifies me to apply for a position as a Schneider National owner/operator. Trucking companies like Schneider use this as a pre-screening tool to sort out the applicants that wouldn’t make a good fit. Unless you score at least four stars, they’re not interested in talking to you.

Predictive Success is another provider looking to sign up trucking companies. Their assessment uses a more traditional approach to behavioural psychology by comparing and weighing four key personality traits: dominance, patience, extroversion and formality. The subject is asked to pick from a list of adjectives that best describe how they see themselves, and another list of how they think others perceive them.

The formality index indicates how closely a candidate can follow work instructions and safety procedures. Ideally a well-adapted driver would score low on the dominance scale but high in the formality category, while an aggressive driver who does a sloppy pre-trip inspection would have the opposite score.

The Predictive Success measurement includes an in-depth written assessment that gives you more substance than a mere rating. Although the survey is not geared to trucking professionals, the answers can be weighted with regard to specific job applications. The survey was spot-on when it came to my evaluation. I’ve been having qualms about taking a dedicated highway run from Toronto to Laval and the program intuited that although I prefer highway work, the reason I was reluctant to give up my run coverage status was because I don’t like getting slotted into a repetitive grind.

The Predictive Success survey might have wider applications because of its breadth of coverage. According to Todd Harris, head of science for Predictive Success, “It’s important to remember that personality isn’t everything. Typically, 20% of driver variability in performance is accounted by personality. We stress that a hiring decision shouldn’t be made on one data point. The more information we can provide the better.”

Harris suggests that the other 80% of a driver’s capabilities can be gleaned from other employment tools such as a reference check, road test and a personal interview.

“We train managers to understand their people and create a job profile,” he says. “Employers used to use personality assessments in terms of hiring, but now a lot of companies are finding more and more uses for things like succession planning, team building, and a lot of other applications.”

What interests me in the Predictive Success model is that it attempts to get at the DNA of what makes  a good and happy driver. They also have studies of transportation groups that purport to show that drivers who fit into their profile have less problems, less accidents, get better fuel mileage, and have lower maintenance costs. Another bonus to the Predictive Success format is that their quiz can be accessed in 65 languages, a boon to recruiters hiring overseas.

The last personality assessment I tried was RoadWorthy, a product developed by an American company Select International which does the pre-screening for the above mentioned Toyota plants in Cambridge and Woodstock, Ont. This assessment is available in Spanish or English, and is less subtle than the  JOBehaviors or Predictive Success template. Applicants are instructed to tick off boxes with agree, disagree, or strongly agree or disagree qualifiers.

While the aforementioned applications were nuanced and cleverly constructed to get at the actual behaviours of job applicants, the RoadWorthy model was perhaps too obvious. I mean, who’s going to answer a pre-screening questionnaire by saying they like to break things? Or that they yell at other drivers? I suspect that these questions might be manipulated by applicants seeking to provide answers that they think the employer wants to hear.

Nonetheless, Select International executive vice-president Matthew O’Connell stands behind the RoadWorthy product.

“It’s hard to find good drivers,” he says. “Our goal is to put this at the top of the hiring funnel and cross out the 10-15% of drivers that are going to give you the most problems.”

Lastly, I was looking for testimonials from trucking companies who had used any of these assessments. Predictive Success has apparently sold their product to the Irving companies, Midland and Sunbury, but I couldn’t find anyone to go on the record as to its efficacy.

I had less of a problem with one of the JOBehaviors clients, Bestway Express of Vincennes, Ind. Safety and human resources director Curt Singleton speaks glowingly about the program. “We brought it in originally for new hires and we’ve had tremendous success. Our turnover rate which was around 100% we’ve got down to around 60%. And those drivers that got the best ratings have stayed with us the longest.”

Although Singleton hasn’t had a chance to compare the data on accident rates, he can say with certainty that none of his 280 drivers who scored four or five star ratings on the JOBehaviors scale has had a major accident. But for retaining drivers alone, Singleton thinks that the investment in JOBehaviors has paid off.  “Since we started the program in January of 2011, we’ve retained 80% or our trainees, whereas, typically a trucking company tends to lose 60% of its trainees in the first few months.”

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