Some fleets in need of an attitude adjustment: panel

by John Curran

TORONTO, Ont. – A panel of experts on driver recruitment and retention told Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) convention delegates that the way to escape the driver shortage is to start treating drivers like human beings.

“Drivers are seen as a tool rather than a resource,” complains Sue MacNeil of Driver Competency Assessment. Until a fleet recognizes the difference between their people and their iron, turnover will always be a problem.

“Drivers are not integrated into the team,” she adds. “Many carriers have a nice lunch room for the secretaries and the people who run the company, but the driver’s get a little tiny room in the back.”

She says it will take a radical rethinking on behalf of some of the worst offenders to fix the problem.

Joel Dandrea, director of driver training and development with the American Trucking Associations, says the time has come to make the necessary adjustments because wannabe truckers are becoming harder to find.

“In the U.S. we estimate we’re going to need 80,000 new drivers per year through until 2005,” he says. He adds that given today’s booming economy, “Some folks say that’s a conservative estimate.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) currently estimates Canada’s need at 50,000 drivers for the next five to 10 years. Mind you, at this point the figure is only based on anecdotal information and has no hard numbers to back up the claim.

Dandrea says a number of factors are working against the industry in its daily challenge to keep the freight moving.

“The traditional driver pool – 21 to 50 year-old white males – is shrinking,” he says. Fleets are beginning to look in other areas for truckers, but it’s a slow transition, he adds.

“More companies are starting to spec’ female friendly equipment,” says Dandrea of things like automatic transmissions. But he still maintains women only account for about four per cent of the total driver community in the U.S.

“The number of minorities involved in trucking is also on the rise,” he adds. But, he insists the industry is faced with new challenges as it looks to develop until now untapped sources for potential drivers.

Angelika Mellema, president of the Mellema Behavioral Science Group, suggests there are ways management can make a fleet more prepared to support these non-traditional truckers.

“Outline a diversity management policy,” she says as one way to give your fleet’s managers a better starting point when dealing with both women and minorities. For those who have trouble communicating, “Provide English training,” she adds.

These non-traditional drivers who haven’t grown up riding around the country in their father’s truck also present safety concerns in some cases to the companies who take a chance and employ them. To alleviate some of these worries, many fleets feature in-house training programs. Dandrea isn’t convinced these are necessarily the answer.

“One U.S. study fund there is no positive correlation between training and crash reductions,” he explains. In fact, a report completed for the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators recently concluded the same thing.

MacNeil says training for training’s sake does nothing.

“Imagine what the results would be if when you went into the doctor everyone was automatically given a shot of insulin,” she says. “Carriers need to measure what the driver really needs.”

Keller adds that some of the better companies are starting to realize dispatching is not a job you want to throw raw rookies into if you hope to hold on to drivers…

“One year’s worth of driver exit interviews with one fleet in particular showed that 20 per cent of the reasons given for leaving, the dispatcher had in their control.” n

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