CALGARY, Alta. – Most carriers publicly acknowledge their drivers are their most important assets. So why is it that they are often treated worse than the equipment they use?
That’s the question Transcom founder and general manager Roy Craigen posed to Alberta fleet managers at several recent seminars on Building and Maintaining a Professional Driving Team.
The seminars – jointly hosted by Transcom and the Alberta Motor Transport Association – painted a pretty clear picture of why the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage. They also outlined effective and inexpensive ways carriers can better build and maintain their driver team.
Craigen’s Recommendation Number One was to stop treating drivers (who have up to 30 years of service in them) worse than equipment (which rarely lasts longer than five years)!
Craigen compared hiring a new driver to purchasing a new tractor. The tractor is typically housed in a nice building, has top of the line computers to service it, the most skilled people in the company looking after it, regularly scheduled maintenance, and 24-hour assistance wherever it is at the time.
“That’s a pretty good effort for an asset that has a five-year life expectancy,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile drivers have a drivers’ room, user-pay vending machines, and bulletin boards for communication.
“If we’re spending that amount of money maintaining that truck and we’re spending a minimal amount of money to maintain the driver, maybe that’s why we have a problem,” he said.
The problem isn’t going to go away, either, he pointed out. Craigen said the trucking industry is entering a five-year period of rapid attrition with 2,300 drivers retiring per month.
Exacerbating the problem is a new U.S. immigration rule that allows Canadian drivers under permit to haul loads between points in the U.S. for 44 weeks out of the year. So, instead of competing with 2,887 Canadian carriers (with revenues over $1 million per year) for drivers, you’re about to be competing with about 360,000 U.S. trucking companies as well, said Craigen.
He suggested many carriers don’t put enough thought and effort into their hiring practices. When you consider the drivers control essentially all the big ticket items in your company (fuel use, maintenance costs, insurance costs, customer service, public image, compliance fitness etc.) it makes sense to put more thought into who you’re hiring.
“We’re going to make a big decision when we hire this professional driver into the company because he’s going to manage all the big ticket items,” pointed out Craigen. “It kind of takes the spunk out of those of us in the office because it’s pretty hard to manage something you can’t see most of the time.”
Craigen estimates each hire is nearly a $2 million decision based on a 25-year career at $55,000 per year with a 20 per cent burden. So why, he asked, do carriers not put more thought into who does their recruiting?
“Who is responsible for your hiring?” he asked. “Does the person who has that job want that job? Are they good at hiring drivers? Are they doing the same things you did 10 years ago? If your hiring process is the same as it was 10 years ago there’s probably need for change.”
Craigen recommends making hiring practices a corporate priority which should involve every staff member. He says carriers should develop a hiring team and “I would put everybody on that team that wants to be on it.”
He also says carriers shouldn’t be afraid to get creative and use non-traditional hiring techniques such as handing out pens at truck stops that have the company logo and phone number on them.
“The next time that driver is mad because he’s delayed at the border and he’s signing a bill, your phone number is waving in his face,” Craigen reasoned.
Most importantly, he suggested making hiring fun. “What ever happened to fun in trucking?” he asked.
One of the best ways to attract drivers to your fleet is to emphasize the advantages of working there. That means establishing good standards and publicizing them.
“I really believe most carriers don’t recognize their advantages,” said Craigen. “The best drivers want to be part of a good organization so if you have good standards, make them known.”
Ideally, Craigen said drivers should leave the job interview asking themselves ‘Can I measure up to these guys?’
Craigen is startled by the trend in the U.S. to hire drivers on the spot – often before they have time to complete their breakfast. He says more thought should go into hiring and the orientation process that follows should not be rushed.
“Initial orientation should be an event because it’s the only single time you get to introduce your culture,” he said.
New hires should be introduced to the company’s culture immediately and one way to do that is to put them in touch with the fleet’s existing employees before they accept a job offer. When he was responsible for hiring drivers, Craigen would give prospective hires a company phone card for two days as well as a list of the fleet’s staff. That new driver could then contact as many of his prospective peers as possible to get a true flavour of what it’s like to work there.
Afterwards, Craigen would have two requirements of that driver. One: Does he understand the company’s standards? And two: Is he willing to meet them?
“Be a tough line-up to crack,” Craigen said. “The best drivers want to work for the best organizations. They want to belong to something they are proud of.”
Once you’ve established a stable of good, competent, drivers how do you keep them from fleeing for greener pastures?
A recent survey conducted by Transcom showed most drivers in a fleet indicated ‘Being involved in things’ was their strongest desire. Meanwhile, in the same survey that company’s management indicated it felt drivers’ top priority was ‘Rates.’
Craigen said involving drivers in the day-to-day business of the carrier will go a long way towards building employee loyalty and morale. For instance, Craigen recommends providing drivers with P&L statements.
“That’s being involved,” he said. “If they’re managing all the big ticket items in your business but they don’t know how well they’re managing them, then you’re leaving a big hole.”
He added it doesn’t hurt for them to know how well the company is doing. “Do you want them equipped with real knowledge or do you want them using their imagination?”
Celebrating small victories is another simple way of improving driver morale. Also, when a driver receives a compliment or an acknowledgment, share it with the entire company.
“Showcase your professional drivers and seek every opportunity to publicly support them,” Craigen said.
Drivers should also be involved in establishing annual goals and objectives. For instance, asking drivers how much equipment they plan to wreck in a given year will make them more accountable.
Perhaps most importantly, Craigen said carriers should promote continuous learning and provide room for advancement for their drivers.
“Bring education to your professional drivers,” Craigen urged. While some carriers discourage drivers from leaving the cab of the truck, Craigen said “That guy you just promoted to supervisor becomes your selling point for the new guys coming through the door. A career path may be our only realistic tool to attract young people and it may also be our only realistic way to hold onto a 35-year-old.”
Craigen said building and maintaining a professional driving team doesn’t have to be expensive – in fact it pays for itself again and again. However, companies have to realize they can’t continue treating their drivers worse than they treat their equipment and expect this problem to go away on its own.