Are you meeting their needs?

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Last year, we were alarmed to find that job satisfaction had dropped to its lowest level since the start of the survey, with the national job satisfaction level calculated at a mere 3.13 out of 5. That’s barely a C grade. Even more alarming was the fact that a full fifth of the drivers and owner/operators in our previous survey considered themselves either “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” in their jobs.

It seemed logical to expect things to get worse this year. And yet, they did not.

Despite all the adversity the Canadian driver force faced this year, our survey found that not only did their job satisfaction not deteriorate, it actually improved. In fact, it rose to 3.67 out of 5, which is just a touch better than the 3.66 level posted during the first two years of the survey. And this year, 60% marked themselves down as either satisfied or very satisfied and the number of unsatisfied respondents was down to 16%. Part of the reason for the higher score is the fact that a greater proportion of our sample this year included owner/operators (59% compared to 45% the previous year) and they tend to report higher job satisfaction levels (and also lower satisfaction levels as they tend to dominate the extreme ends of the satisfaction spectrum). But even when we isolate company driver responses, job satisfaction this year managed to rise, albeit to a more modest 3.37. Almost half (48%) of company drivers considered themselves satisfied with 29% considering themselves neutral on the issue and 23% being unsatisfied.

Understanding what drives driver job satisfaction is a key objective of our survey, conducted in partnership once again with CTHRC. Our survey examines how satisfied drivers are regarding 12 different aspects of their job, ranging from pay and recognition to stress and growth opportunities within the company.

Recruitment, of course, is the other half of the human resource equation. When drivers are looking for work, what makes one employer stand out over the rest? Our research, once again, looks into that important question examining the factors you need to focus on to attract company drivers and owner/operators.

But first, let’s get deeper into the issue of job satisfaction. As noted above, our survey asked participants to assess not only their overall job satisfaction, but also their satisfaction with specific characteristics of their job. With the previous survey, we had noted that the depth to which satisfaction levels had fallen in several areas should be of great concern. For example, of the 12 different job factors we track, only one had a satisfaction level above 3.50 or, put more simply, was given a B grade.

This is what we found this year:

-Survey participants gave a B grade or better to four of the 12 characteristics of their job. And whereas last year several areas came awfully close to receiving a failing grade, this year only one job characteristic was graded less than 3 out of 5. That was for training and development, perhaps no surprise considering training budgets are among the first cut when companies are trying to reduce their expenditures.

-Drivers gave their highest satisfaction rating, a 3.78 out of 5 to the people they get to work with on the job. Their next highest score, and particularly heartening, was the 3.68 they gave for being in a job that provides them with a sense of accomplishment. In the previous survey, that had declined to 3.09. It was mentioned earlier that company drivers are not quite as satisfied as are owner/operators, yet company drivers scored these two characteristics of the job higher than the overall survey average. Rounding out the four characteristics given better than a B grade were “respect and fair treatment received from customers,” which was given a 3.59 out of 5 grade and the job’s allowance for “individual thought and action,” which was scored at 3.51. The latter showed a considerable improvement from the 2.97 grade it received last year.

-Last survey, several important areas slipped into dangerous territory, slipping uncomfortably close to receiving a failing grade. These included the “amount of pay and benefits,” graded at 2.93 out of 5; the “amount of job security” and the “amount of job training,” both graded even lower at 2.71; the “quality of supervision received on the job,” ranked at 2.86. This year, satisfaction with pay and benefits was graded at 3.33 out of 5. Since it’s highly unlikely that drivers received much of a wage increase, if any, in 2010, the improved satisfaction in this area may be explained by participants being more appreciative of their pay package when seeing their friends forced into pay cuts or be part of layoffs. Company drivers did score this area a bit lower than the survey average, but not by much. Their satisfaction with the quality of supervision they received on the job also improved to 3.44 out of 5 while their satisfaction with the amount of job security they felt improved to 3.27.

-In the previous survey, there were a couple of areas graded at 2.5 or less out of 5 this year, which translates into a D grade. These included driver satisfaction with the “amount of recognition received for strong performance” graded at 2.50 and the “opportunity to grow with the company,” receiving the lowest grade at 2.38. This year, no job characteristic received anything close to a failing grade.

-Stress during recessionary times is always a concern and it certainly was with the previous survey. Drivers had rated their satisfaction with “the amount of stress” in their jobs at 2.73 out of 5, which reflected a drop from the previous years. This year, they scored it at 3.14 – not great, but certainly an improvement.

-Looking at the latest results, the areas for greatest concern should be driver satisfaction with the “opportunity to grow” with their companies (3.02), “recognition for strong performance” (3.15) and, as mentioned earlier, the level of “training and development” they receive, graded at 2.99.

Speaking of the low mark drivers gave their employers for recognizing strong performance, our survey also questions drivers about which areas they deem most important to receive rewards and recognition. As shown in Figure 2, carriers who reward their drivers for accident-free mileage, on-time delivery, minimizing cargo damage and customer service are most in tune with what is important to their driver force.

Every year, we also ask drivers to rate how concerned they perceive their employer to be in meeting their needs (see Figure 4). Here, too, we ask them to rate 12 different areas of importance, ranging from getting them home on time to rewarding strong performance. What was remarkable about the previous year’s survey results was that we found deterioration in 11 of the 12 areas and the one area that did not confirm to this pattern (paying you on time) simply held steady. It was heartening this year to find across the board improvement in this area, with every one of the 12 different areas we probed, being rated higher than the past year and no area receiving a failing grade. For example, last year, survey respondents marked their employer’s concern with getting them home when promised at 3.30 out of 5; this year they marked it at 3.76. Similarly, last year, employer concern for providing enough time to complete trips was graded at 3.41 and this year, it was improved to 3.72.

Paying on time has traditionally received the highest mark and it did so again this year with a score of 4.34. Of note during this time when motor carriers have been forced into running the oldest fleet in recent memory is drivers’ grade for employer concern in “making sure your equipment is safe.” It was graded at 4.15 this year, compared to 3.85 last year.

While the recession did away with any concerns for a driver shortage, this is an issue guaranteed to become prominent again in the near future and be certain to impact motor carrier growth plans. Back in 2006, at the tail end of the continent’s economic expansion, extensive CTHRC research f
ound that almost 60% of industry employers considered the driver shortage as one of their top two concerns. Job vacancy rates increased to 12.3% and such a high job vacancy rate translated into an immediate need for 12,000 new drivers of tractor-trailers.

All the motor carrier executives who participated in our series of Profitability seminars put on this summer in partnership with Dan Goodwill and Associates shared the same concern for a looming driver shortage.

“What caused the shortage in transportation several years ago? I do not think it was lack of financing or lack of capital; it was finding the drivers. I think the issue is going to be an even bigger one this time because we have lost so many drivers out of the industry as they have changed occupations. I think our growth eventually will be controlled by the amount of help that we can find, and the amount of people that we can get into our industry,” said Wes Armour, the well-known leader of Atlantic Canada’s powerhouse Armour Transport. “If you are a young person and you can go to a job where you go to work at nine o’clock in the morning and get home at five o’clock at night, five days per week, why are you going to go and work for an industry that works weekends and nights under a lot of pressure? There is no such thing as an eight-hour day in trucking. I will make a prediction that we are going to be out of these people quicker than we think.”

Previous CTHRC research found the hiring of new employees in trucking prior to the recession lagged behind the rate at which drivers were being lost. New hires were accounting for 17.6% of the workforce, compared to the share of drivers who quit (13.3%), were terminated (8%), or retired (3.2%). Retirement rates, according to the CTHRC research have increased threefold since 2002. When the economy resumes its stride and trucking companies start growing again, driver retention and recruitment are certain to be important barriers to growth.

Our survey also asks drivers to list the main reasons they would consider working for another carrier. In each year of our survey, not surprisingly, better money is the most often cited reason with 83% of respondents admitting that thoughts of a fatter paycheque do make them consider alternative employment. Better benefits (59%) and better rewards program (27%) are traditionally top of the list as is better scheduling (25%). What’s interesting this year, however, is that reputation of firm has snuck into the top seven, cited by 26% of our sample.

Perhaps that’s a fitting indication that a thorough understanding of what attracts and motivates drivers and the ability to deliver on those factors will be central to future growth strategy for Canada’s motor carriers.

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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