When hiring drivers, small fleets are at a major disadvantage

by Bill Cameron

As small carriers, we often watch job applicants leave our offices confused as to why, despite seemingly acceptable credentials, they were not hired as drivers. Maybe I can shed some light.

First, newly-licensed applicants need to gain at least two years’ experience with a large carrier before a small carrier can hire you. Our insurance providers will not allow us to hire anyone with less than two years’ experience, and even that often involves a premium increase.

Even if you prove yourself to be an exceptional talent, as some new licencees are, we can’t hire you. This has been the case for many years, so if a driving school tells you otherwise, they are not simply confused or mistaken, they lied.

Small carriers are locked in to a very firm set of insurance provider-dictated recruitment rules. In some cases, a driver we may not accept can apply at a large carrier and be accepted almost immediately, creating obvious confusion for newcomers to the industry.

Large carriers may be able hire new trainees, recent immigrants, or those with shaky driving histories. This is because the large carrier will often be self-insured, meaning the lion’s share of their insurance coverage is for liabilities. Deductibles on vehicle damage are so astronomically high, claims are rare.

How did a driver I couldn’t hire become acceptable just because the truck has a different name on the door? This can be very frustrating for the small carrier, as well as the driver, as there are many drivers who are quite qualified, but lacking in experience.

Imagine finding the ideal driver for your empty truck, yet being unable to hire them due to insurance guidelines that only apply to small carriers. My equipment is an important asset, not just a unit number, and nobody operates it unless I have complete faith in their ability.

Older, experienced drivers and owner/operators need to bear in mind the primary difference between dealing with small and large carriers.

At the large carrier, you will deal with someone whose title is recruiter. The recruiter’s duty is to recruit, not to retain. They are often under pressure to hire new drivers. As a result, if your ability or attitude is slightly lacking, but your abstract and resume look alright, you will likely be hired.

Apply at the small carrier, and your recruiter likely wears the following hats: human resources, payroll, safety, dispatch, maintenance, senior driver, and/or owner. As such, this person has a huge financial and personal stake in the company. If you are the most qualified, hardest worker to ever walk through the door, but your attitude is horrible, you will remain unemployed.

I once interviewed a man in his 50s, who boasted a 35-year safety record, who arrived with a briefcase because it was the only container he had large enough to contain all his awards. His impression was that I would obviously hire him immediately, and use him as the benchmark for all future hires.

I’ve been on road tests that disappointed me, but until that day I had never been on one that had me fearing for my own safety. It seems his clean driving record didn’t reflect his driving ability, just incredibly good luck, something he was painfully unaware of.

An angry phone call from him a week later confirmed that no other small carrier would hire him either, but he didn’t remain unemployed. Some desperate fool hired him.

As a side note, you’ll notice that carriers of all sizes are guilty of certain recruiting sins. One ad that caught my eye before the recession was from an Ontario carrier that advertised flatbed company driver positions paying “up to” 73 cents per mile. A company insider explained this number to me. They took the highest grossing driver’s T4 earnings, and divided it by the miles he travelled. That number, unfortunately, included safety bonus, uniform allowance, holiday pay, overdimensional bonuses, layovers, tarp fees and LTL bonuses.

That’s hardly a true mileage rate, is it? As usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s usually not true. The real base rate in this case was 42 cents per mile. The recruiter obviously had exceptional math skills. This, unfortunately, is a common practice.

The biggest downfall to these issues, is the lasting impression it leaves with younger drivers. After being rejected by small carriers, they will gravitate to a large carrier. After gaining experience, they could try employment at both small and large carriers, weighing the merits of each. Unfortunately, we are all creatures of habit, and your first job in a new industry will likely set an unbreakable pattern.

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  • The age old problem goes on no work for the new drivers,how do
    other provinces deal with this situation,they put in training programs that new drivers must meet,in ontario it is a joke we do not consider trucking a profession like other provinces.
    If you look at the system and how it works you will understand why these new drivers have no work,no one checks the schools to see if students are getting on road driving or anything else to help in obtaining work.
    Unless Ontario puts some teeth into this this will remain the same and we will just keep writing about it.

  • Many Ontario truck driving schools actually do get audited. If they are registered with the MTCU, they must account for all of the hours of training for students. IF the school is also a member of the TTSAO (Truck Driving School Association of Ontario), then they are subject to another audit to account for their activities.
    The TTSAO, its schools and carriers, had to set their own standards in line with insurance companies’ since the government wouldn’t. It is very unfortunate that the province doesn’t recognize Truck Driving as a “Profession”. A voluntary Apprenticeship for Truck Driving is being implemented by companies like Schneider National and Kriska (maybe Challenger too??). They pay successful candidates $1000 as an incentive for completing the apprenticeship.

    The more companies that use the Apprenticeship to train their new drivers the sooner the government will step up and recognize Truck Driving as a profession.

    After this, then the schools can finally start getting together, legitimizing their programs and kicking out the “fly-by-night” schools out there too.

    My Two Cents. (rounded to zero)

  • Very interesting perspective. Not much I’d disagree with. There would be something that could be added (acknowledging your article size restriction), for instance: even larger companies can impose the 2 year rule (example Bison) some/many smaller companies still hire inexperienced drivers (all-be-it they would be considered “bottom dwellers”) there is a sizable amount of small carriers who abuse drivers as a sort of “paying your dues to the industry”… if they survive the first two years they can/will eventually move to a reputable company. Additionally, some larger companies bring over immigrants (locked in for a year) and abuse them horrendously (check out immigrant turnover inside some larger companies). Their reputation won’t keep drivers locally so they go overseas and lock them into a one year sponsorship contract.

    In my opinion Insurance is an issue (as you’ve stated) but only a minor concern compared to management attitude towards retention.

  • All is the same here in Nova Scotia, Small or large they need driver’s and take what they think will stay. The money is the poorest in the country, they tell you UP To and that is the catch. You never get what they say once you are on the road. Drivers have left on the road leaving equipment where it is, Just to get home to their family. This word spreads like a virus through this small place. All companies are hiring but they know before hand what your past experience has been, and what your driving is like because the company owners all know each other. Improve the pay and lifestyle and this will stop. Tony

  • I live in Quebec, Canada. My truck driving started with $1650.00, 20 hours of driving course. I was “prepared” to do the exam to get my license class 1 (AZ). What examiners are looking for is the control of the vehicle, grinding gears is not that important, they know that as a new driver you will have problems getting job unless you go to work for one of the giants and they will teach you how to drive properly before they put you befind the wheel. Of course that was my path. Applied with Schneider National, got hired and got trained. Started driving as OTR driver (two weeks on the road, weekend at home). Was working at Schneider for about 6 months. I left Schneider for few reasons; with Operating Center in Guelph, Ontario there was not enough freight going to Quebec, i had to push to get my time at home. Second reason was the way things worked, patience is not my virtue, sitting empty sometimes for 3-4 hours waiting to get dispatched i would get message on my computer urging drivers to update their availability, because “we were loosing freight because we had no drivers available to pickup loads”… One day had enough of that and resigned. Will not mention doing between 1500 and 2200 miles per week at .31$/mile, pay was not what i was expecting. Started looking for another carrier. Could instantly get job with most of the major ones, but was refused by few small ones, because of the insurance issues. After a week (yep, took whole 7 days) i got lucky and was hired by small local carrier (50 trucks). One of the reasons for being hired was my training with Schneider National, training that is considered one of the best in industry. I will have to say that is true, top notch seasoned instructors can perform miracles to get students to learn the proper way of doing things. I’m working for that small carrier few months now, driving mostly to the eastern US, loving the challenge of backing into docks built for first truck versions of Model T. Better milage (2500-3000 miles/week), and better pay. Got new truck two weeks ago… Love it! Wish all new guys can be as lucky as me.

  • Can anyone she’d some light on what is so different about Ontario insurance companies? People out west drive with their license from home province all the time yet no one wants to insure you in Ontario with Alberta license.
    Also what is the deal with all this “I am my own company” nonsense. A truck driver is only a contractor if they own the truck. Why does the government tolerate all this sneaky nonsense. Everyone says you do better because of “writeoffs”. What writeoffs, it’s all illegal, just lets companies avoid employment laws. To all you guys laughing saying join the club, be a contractor you don’t realize that if something bad happens, they can sue YOU!! If they don’t want to pay you all you can do is try to sue them. Everyone I know that is “their own company” has been cheated out of at least ten thousand in wages. A GUY can’t seem to find a job unless he wants to participate in this crooked business practice.

  • Well then small companies are going too have to bite the bullet and either spend money to train newly licensed AZ drivers, or pay the extra premium to carry newly AZ drivers over the age of 25. Because if a bigger company pays me to train and also pays me more money/benefits, WHY in the hell would I leave any of these bigger companies to go and work for a smaller company who wouldn’t hire me “because I was newly licensed without 1-2 years driving experience. (if the bigger companies paid me a little less then the smaller companies- that should be expected because THEY are the ones hiring & training me, when the other companies WOULDN’T).
    Where in the hell is the loyalty from the new AZ DRIVER to the bigger companies who took the CHANCE on the new AZ driver & trained him/her, gave him/her the driving experience, as well as a JOB/CAREER. Personally, any smaller company who just wants to take advantage of the bigger companies for doing all the work: training the new AZ driver, giving that driver the driving experience PLUS A JOB. Only to have that DISLOYAL DRIVER leave, The smaller company should have to pay the bigger company COMPENSATION that put in training for that newly disloyal AZ driver, OR at least stay until the bigger company recuperates their expenses training for that new AZ driver. (MAYBE both the disloyal driver & smaller company should pay an ADDITIONAL FINE/PENALTY to a separate board that uses that money to better train NEW AZ Drivers– God knows their are a lot of POORLY trained new AZ drivers). It’s sad to say that their seems to be no more LOYALTY from drivers to companies and companies to their drivers.
    I find that here in Ontario, the corruption is outrageous, starting at the Gov’t level and working its way down to the companies. Loyalty seems a thing of the pass (everyone seems that they are only interested in looking out for themselves, Period!). Unfortunately, I was raised with different morals that I stand by, and will not betray them for Anyone! SO, wish me luck in my new Career as an New AZ Driver.

  • I know your wrong about new AZ Drivers & small companies. My ex is in the trucking industry: 30+ years. (Head Office),it’s NOT that smaller companies can’t hire new driver- it’s their driving insurance is much higher, which most small companies won’t chance on a new driver, because they can’t afford a big accident by a new driver(profit margin!
    Small companies just want to take Advantage of someone else training their drivers, without having to take any risk or train the new drivers. IT’s ALL ABOUT MONEY!!!!!!

  • I worked residential garbage for 15 years.Company policy was that while doing your job when stopped and someone hits your truck and I not being at fault ,I was not required to report to MTO ,the managers took care of it all. I’m just asking because is that bad for me because insurance would still be involved and like I said parked safely doing my job.I just want to know if I did something wrong?

  • hi
    i have small business company fright i am looking for contracts for jus ontario or switch kingston ontario , london ontario area how l can get contracts plz l need someone help me thanks

  • Wish my school would have mentioned this as they prob knew about it. They haven’t answered my inquiry regarding this specific subject perhaps because they can’t. Shame.