Management – Human Resources: Create the Right Path
July 1, 2000
Truck drivers are not the dissatisfied lot many assume them to be, according to a recently released study on driver retention conducted by the respected Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute of ...
Truck drivers are not the dissatisfied lot many assume them to be, according to a recently released study on driver retention conducted by the respected Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute of North Dakota State University. Quite the contrary – drivers get more satisfaction from doing their jobs than workers in many other occupations, including the machine trades, bench and structural work, sales, processing, technical and even managerial sectors.
If drivers are so satisfied with their jobs, why then do so many of them quit? That’s a complex question with no magic answer, but one of the main reasons may be that carriers are not responding to drivers’ desires to grow in their jobs and make more contributions to the company.
Past studies on job satisfaction conducted by the Institute found a strong desire among drivers for a career path. Eighty three per cent of drivers surveyed indicated that career advancement was important to them. Yet 54 per cent perceived the opportunities for advancement in their company as poor. Similarly, 54 per cent of them had the same perception about opportunities in the industry.
The latest study, which was answered by 736 drivers employed by 11 TL fleets, including Alberta’s Mullen Trucking Ltd., found that drivers were interested in a variety of job responsibilities in addition to driving. More than 60 per cent said they wanted to be involved in customer service; 40 per cent wanted to be involved in driver training; 56 per cent wanted to be part of a cost-reduction team; and 43 per cent wanted to supervise other drivers.
In addition, 66 per cent of the drivers surveyed said they would be more satisfied with their job if it included a realistic career path, while 60 per cent said they would be less likely to quit their job. An impressive 68 per cent said the creation of a career path would make them more willing to put in “a great deal more effort that normally expected” in order to help their organization be successful.
“It seems to us from doing the study that you’ve got a job here that is ripe for job enrichment and you’ve got the people that would react positively to that,” says Gene Griffin, one of the study’s authors, in outlining the findings.
The study included a hypothetical career path designed with both horizontal and vertical flexibility. The career path would see drivers with a CDL and no driving experience started off at an entry level — the study calls it “undergraduate” — position and be allowed to drive only under supervision. Over a rough time span of three years, entry level drivers would be moved up through three more pure driving positions as they increased their driving skills and understanding to the job’s various demands: “graduate” drivers would be allowed to drive solo in the least demanding environments; “certified” drivers would be allowed to handle more challenging routes, traffic, freight and customers and “advanced” drivers would be given the most challenging routes, traffic and freight as well as be expected to have some basic knowledge of the industry. From there drivers would move up the corporate ladder into positions that include business responsibilities in addition to driving such as customer service, recruiting, safety, and maintenance. Such “senior” drivers would receive training to provide them with a fundamental understanding of specific business areas. The hypothetical career path calls for a final stage of “master” driver, which calls on drivers to assume advanced business responsibilities in the areas mentioned above in addition to driving.
“There’s a lot of people you can teach business skills to, it’s not rocket science. Some of them come to it very naturally,” Griffin said. “Take this hypothetical model and change it, massage it, tailor it to your organization. The point is incorporate it into your business somehow. Be creative.”
Creating a career path for the more experienced drivers is critical, according to the study, because contrary to popular industry opinion turnover is more an issue with experienced drivers than the new recruits. Eighty five per cent of the drivers with one to two years of experience included in the study had been with their current employer since the start of their career. Seventy five per cent of drivers with three to five years’ experience had been with their current firm for the duration of their career, while 67 per cent of the drivers with six to 10 years’ experience had been with their current firm for the same length of time. However, the trend changes drastically for drivers with 10 years or more experience. Only 23 per cent of those drivers had been with their firm for 10 or more years. And 16 per cent of this senior group of drivers had been with their current company for less than one year, another 16 per cent for only one to two years and 24 per cent for only three to five years.
The study’s data also found that drivers with 10 years or more experience were much more likely to have frequent thoughts of quitting their jobs, usually a good indication that they will eventually leave their jobs.
“This data would seem to suggest that the longer that drivers are with a firm, and the more experience they gain, the more likely they are to turnover…This conclusion is in contradiction to the belief by some that turnover is a problem associated mainly with younger drivers with less experience. It also suggests that a company must still be concerned about turnover once they have kept a driver for a couple of years,” the study concludes adding that drivers would have lower intentions of quitting and higher commitment to their organizations if their job was changed to include greater developmental opportunities.
However, one of the stumbling blocks to creating such opportunities for drivers may be a false management perception of what drivers are looking for in a career. The study also surveyed 113 managers of TL fleets to determine how management attitudes towards a career path for drivers compared with the attitudes of the people behind the wheel demanding it. It found the differences to be “somewhat disturbing.”
For instance, only 38 per cent of the managers thought drivers would be interested in working in other areas in addition to driving, while 62 per cent of drivers indicated they were. And while 83 per cent of the drivers surveyed indicated they would be interested in opportunities for personal growth, only 64 per cent of the managers thought drivers were interested. Management also underrated drivers’ desire to exercise independent judgement, to take opportunities to learn new things and to do stimulating and challenging work.
“Management tends to misjudge what people want in their job,” explained Griffin, adding that negative stereotyping of drivers by management might be part of the reason why.
“Even in the very best companies it’s human to look down on others and we need to work against that,” Griffin said. “We need to understand that there is dignity in all work and that driving is a challenging and complex job that requires significant physical and intellectual skills. We have to start thinking of drivers in that context.”-