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Understanding driver turnover

By Jan Westell LANGLEY, B. C. - A shortage of drivers is an ongoing problem for the trucking industry, and expected to get worse over the next five years. However, the high turnover rate related to th...


By Jan Westell LANGLEY, B. C. – A shortage of drivers is an ongoing problem for the trucking industry, and expected to get worse over the next five years. However, the high turnover rate related to this unique industry is also a challenge, but not so easily understood. That was a topic of discussion that intrigued many of the 22 participants who were taking part in a seminar about human resources essentials, designed specifically for the trucking industry, at the B. C. Trucking Association recently.

The facilitator of the seminar encouraged the participants, who all hailed from the trucking industry as employers or administrators, to measure their turnover rates in financial terms. It’s a cost of doing business that may otherwise be underestimated.

“The cost of turnover is hidden,” said HR specialist Alison Cunningham. “We don’t even know what’s bleeding out.”

One way to avoid high turnover rates is to consider an effective recruitment program, for greater success with human resource challenges. The positive outcome would be hiring a competent driver who not only had the right technical skills, but also “fit” with the culture of the company, and stuck with the job for an acceptable period of time.

“You do this by hiring better quality drivers in the first place and you make sure you have a retention program, so that they stay longer,” said Cunningham.

Attracting qualified candidates will save not only time, but also money, by minimizing ongoing recruiting requirements, and potential turnover. A larger number of qualified candidates will allow a greater range of selection – and the ability to hire the best people for the company. Further, the HR specialist suggested that employers consider building a “pipeline of applicants” that have been pre-screened for basic requirements. This continuous recruiting model should also provide high quality drivers, when the need demands.

Through the preliminary application process, Cunningham warned about identifying “red flags,” such as incomplete references, driving infractions, employment gaps, lack of experience, etc. As for the actual interview, Cunningham emphasizes that it should be done in person, face-to-face.

“I’m not a proponent of hiring a driver over the phone, in 15 minutes. I want the person to come in for the interview.”

The HR specialist recommended tracking potential applicants for future positions and keeping a written file of this information for future reference, which could be done by using a simple spreadsheet application. Even before the interview starts, the applicant should be treated with respect and greeted with warmth, when they arrive for the interview. Otherwise these potential candidates may seek employment elsewhere, considering the competitive marketplace that now exists for qualified truck drivers.

“At the end of the day, the driver has the choice where they want to go,” says Cunningham, who warned against the potential for inappropriate and indifferent treatment during the initial application process.

“We wouldn’t treat customers that way. Why should we treat drivers that way?”

In response to the facilitator’s main points, the participants that attended the Langley seminar talked about their own successful strategies for retaining drivers. One participant had a problem with negative interaction between a dispatcher and company drivers. The employer decided to send the dispatcher on a 14-hour trip to Whistler, with another truck driver, which apparently offered a good example of the daily grind faced by B. C. truck drivers. Another participant had a neophyte driver who was having difficulty shifting, a skill he eventually learned from a more seasoned driver, with great success.

“He’s now one of our best drivers,” said the employer.

Each participant in the HR seminar received a guidebook to augment the seminar. The guide has been designed to be easy to use, with three module topics: recruitment, retention, and understanding turnover. For more information about future seminars, visit the CTHRC Web site at www.cthrc.com, or call 613-244-4800.

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