Retention or Driver Shortage? Only Carriers Know

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – Some say the driver shortage looming over the trucking industry is not due to poor recruitment strategies but rather the lack of retention practices within companies – the lesser of two evils, at least according to one speaker at the Canadian Recruiting and Retention Conference held in Toronto in September.

Canadian carrier C.A.T.’s turnover rate was 125 per cent in 1995, today it is 32 per cent – a result of focusing on driver retention more so than driver recruitment, said Robert Gadoua, C.A.T.’s executive vice-president, who spoke about his company’s success at the 2004 Canadian Recruiting and Retention Conference held at the International Plaza Hotel.

“We have improved, but there is still lots to fix,” said Gadoua. “It’s all about the people and company culture. Culture takes time to develop and so I have to be patient with it.”

A common mistake that recruiters make is that they try to sell a job and not a way of life, said Gadoua. A driver’s job is more than a job and when he or she feels that the community they are now a part of knows that, gaps begin to close and they become the vital link between the customer and the company that you need them to be, he said.

“When someone says you have a good organization, what they are really saying is that your drivers were good to me,” he said. “So your drivers have to be part of your sales force and that has to be right from the beginning.”

Realistically, the president is the least important person in the company, Gadoua said.

The customer is the true boss, the people who support the customer are the drivers and the people who support the drivers are the dispatchers and operations team. And so the chain of interdependency goes on, and, according to Gadoua, a well run company is run this way.

Gadoua doesn’t think the industry is suffering from a recruiting issue, but rather a retention issue.

“Every company gets calls from drivers, but it is keeping those drivers interested that we don’t do well,” said Gadoua. “But in the long run, it’s better this way because there are things we can do to improve retention and ways we can change the company that will help.”

Gadoua believes that C.A.T.’s 125 per cent turnover rate was decreased by improving retention practices.

“The key ingredient in reducing our turnover was when we threw away our titles,” said Gadoua. “Our dispatchers are called team managers and they manage a team of 30 drivers. They are directly responsible for those drivers, so if something is wrong with one of their drivers they have to fix it right away. If they can’t fix it then I will.”

Team managers at C.A.T. have added responsibility such as remembering the drivers’ handle names. Drivers like to be called by their handles and it makes them feel important if someone else remembers something about them, said Gadoua

“My team managers will send the drivers a feel good message every now and then. They remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries and they are a 24-hour resource for those drivers,” he said.

The driver/team manager relationship is very powerful, said Gadoua. It is very much a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of relationship and it works.

C.A.T. ensures drivers have all the amenities they need at the terminal, said Gadoua.

“We don’t want drivers worrying about where they are going to shower or if their car is safe while it’s parked at the terminal and while they are on the road. We want them concentrating on driving,” he said.

Everyone in the company who deals with drivers is required to go on a two-day truck trip so they can experience the waiting time at the docks, the treatment by customers or spending a night in the bunk, said Gadoua. This experience really opens eyes and changes the culture in C.A.T.’s operation.

Retention tools are almost always reactionary, said Kelly Anderson, president of Impact Transportation Solutions. When a driver gets upset, it’s too late to do something about it because it shows the company didn’t care until there is a fuss made.

“We have to remember why this person chose us instead of another carrier,” said Anderson. “The driver is entrusting us with their welfare and their family’s welfare too and that is something that we can’t take lightly.”

Simply by contacting new drivers after one week, 30 days, 60 days and 90 days after hiring just to ask them how they are doing reduces turnover rates by 30 per cent, said Anderson. That is something that is pretty simple to implement.

At MacKinnon Transport, consistency was the number one thing that helped decrease the driver turnover rates.

“Drivers are most concerned with being treated fairly and knowing that other drivers are being treated the same way,” said Ray Haight, president and COO of MacKinnon. “You have to be consistent with the decisions you make when it comes to drivers.”

MacKinnon made a decision to partner with the training school it deals with, and go and see the school and maintain communication with them in order to better understand where the drivers are coming from. This way company officials can feel more confident in the drivers’ abilities.

“From our experience if you deviate from your standards, you will inevitably hire a problem driver,” said Haight.

“You need to have company values and standards for everything and you have to commit to them.”

Drivers want to be in the company loop, said Haight. They want to know what’s going on in the industry and in the company.

“If I give you information, it’s because I trust you and that is the best way to gain loyalty,” Haight said.

MacKinnon Transport has implemented a system where performance reviews are conducted not only for office staff but all drivers and owner/operators too.

“The response has been tremendous, it makes the drivers feel like they are part of something bigger. They love hearing what we have to say and we love hearing what they have to say,” said Haight.

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