The challenge of finding and retaining employees in the trucking industry

CALGARY, Alta. – Recruiting and retaining employees has become complex, and today, there are several steps companies need to take if they are going to find success in the new world of human resources.

“Recruitment is partially becoming a sales job. You’re looking at getting partners…your role in HR is changing.”

That was the message Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, sent during a workshop in Calgary, Alta., at the Alberta Motor Transport Association office Feb. 7.

Splinter highlighted how carriers need to establish a clear and consistent HR plan that is communicated to all employees to ensure its success.

She also stressed the importance of company branding, looking at it from a sales perspective to pinpoint what it is that makes your business a place people would want to work.

Starting with what she called an employment value proposition, Splinter said carriers need to identify their culture, values, history, reputation, development opportunities, community involvement, and the type of work prospective employees would experience.

“That is how you’re going to start your recruitment process,” she said, adding that though it starts at the company level, it overlaps with the industry as a whole. “We have to do a better job of promoting the industry as a sector of choice.”

Knowing who makes up your current workforce will also help entice new employees, said Splinter.

“It’s important for you to know the demographics in your workforce if you are going to look at hiring and retention,” she said.

Age, cultural backgrounds, skills, number of women and men, future needs in specific roles, were all key elements of a business’ workforce that should be identified.

HR professionals should also pinpoint potential hiring sources.

Splinter pointed out that in trucking, referrals remains the most used source for finding new employees. Though this has worked in the past, Splinter said poaching from other companies in the industry does little to increase the sector’s overall talent pool.

“We want you to start thinking beyond that,” she said, “and find different ways to find your workforce.”

Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, says carriers need to up their HR game if they want to attract new employees.

Garnering quality applicants starts with an effective job posting. Posting that properly define the skills required for a specific job, such as truck driver, will bring additional benefits beyond the quality of applicants.

“We hear a lot about the occupation of truck driver not being defined as a (skilled trade),” said Splinter. “It starts with how the job is defined.”

Splinter said the biggest mistake companies make when posting truck driver positions is indicating there is “no experience or education required.”

“When you say that, you’re not going to get a quality driver,” she said, adding it also suggests it is not a skilled trade.

Key components that should be included in a job posting include a summary of the duties required, fleet information, minimum experience needed, working conditions, a company profile, any disclaimers, and careers paths.

If carriers are looking to diversify their workforce, include in the posting any interesting aspects of the position, work environment, polices that support a respectful workplace, photos of your diverse staff, and programs like English language training and mentoring opportunities.

Employment openings should reach out to a variety of potential applicants. Posting on a variety of platforms, including your company website, social media, newspapers, driving schools, and websites aimed at newcomers to Canada, will help achieve this goal.

Diversity, inclusion, millennials

Tapping into some of the lesser-utilized worker pools can help alleviate some hiring hardships.

Craig Faucette, director of policy and programs for Trucking HR Canada, said when it comes to the desire to diversify your workforce, planning ahead is important.

Defining why diversity is important to your organization and developing a statement outlining your position as it pertains to diversity is a good starting point.

Once a framework has been established, it must be communicated to your workforce and measured based on your company values and diversity goals.

Looking to Indigenous communities for workers is one area Faucette saw potential. But carriers must do their homework before attempting to hire Aboriginal workers.

“This is not a short-term fix,” he admitted, saying Indigenous communities want to see that companies are looking for lasting partnerships. “You’ll put a lot of resources into this before you see gains.”

The use of an Aboriginal liaison can be an effective tool in this effort.

Visible minorities offer another large pool of potential.

“This is a growing community and a growing workforce for the trucking industry,” said Faucette.

For potential workers, companies can look to immigrant serving organizations, which help with settlement services and job placement for new Canadians.

A recent study conducted by Trucking HR Canada in conjunction with Abacus Data confirmed the trucking industry is not on young people’s radar when considering a career.

In 2011, less than 15% of truck drivers were under the age of 35. But by implementing better recruitment practices, companies can turn things around.

“Look at your approaches and strategies and making sure they are mapping with that of young people,” said Splinter, pointing out that work-life balance is the most important aspect of what millennial workers look for in a career.

Other important job features for young people include offering a friendly workplace for women, a respectful atmosphere, that it aligns with their moral values, and that it provides coaching and mentoring opportunities.

Trucking HR’s research found that though there is a cohort of young people interested in blue-collar work opportunities, trucking is not one being seriously considered, and construction was a more sought-after field.

The study determined that millennials underestimate the earning potential in the trucking industry by $10,000.

Another segment of Canada’s workforce that is often neglected is those with disabilities.

Numbering approximately 2.1 million in Canada, those with disabilities can often be easily accommodated by reasonable adjustments to a job or employment environment, with 57% of those adjustments coming at no cost.

Faucette said people with disabilities increases with age. Around 4.4% of those between the ages of 16-24 live with disabilities, while 35.6% aged 45-54 identify as having a mental or physical disability.

Trucking HR Canada has long advocated for the hiring of more women in the industry, and retaining those employees is a key to diversifying any workforce.

Like millennials, mentoring is a top priority for many women in trucking, with over 60% saying they would be interested in one-on-one mentoring relationships.

Another 40% say they would like to participate in peer networking and local women’s events.

Turnover troubles

Employee turnover is trending upward.

Data shows that larger fleets see higher turnover rates than smaller fleets. In the U.S., Splinter said turnover is extremely high, around 100%, but added that this has become a reality she believes the U.S. business model has come to expect and is prepared to deal with.

In Canada, the numbers are much lower. Splinter said of Trucking HR Canada’s Top Fleet Employers, 15% experience 0-15% turnover, while 42% have between 16-30% turnover.

“Probing why people are leaving you is important,” said Splinter. “You can then start to identify trends.”

Over the next five years, turnover risks for the industry show that 75% of drivers between 18-35 plan to either leave the industry or are considering leaving because of a lack of pension, benefits, or low wages, lack of respect for customers, long hours, a need for improved work-life balance, and a desire to be self-employed.

Another 36% of young drivers plan on leaving the industry because they say there are few opportunities for women to advance, they have health or wellness issues, high stress, unsatisfactory work conditions, low wages versus hours worked, or they have a desire to align their career with their personal values.

Splinter underscored several ways carriers can help retain workers and lower staff turnover. Offering compensation packages that include RRSPs, bonuses, vacation time, gym memberships, and flexible health and benefit plans help retain workers.

And for new Canadians, helping them integrate into the community and workplace goes a long way. With studies showing it takes around a year for a person to feel comfortable within a new community, employers can help the process by learning about their cultural background, celebrating holidays and traditions, and offering a private place for their particular customs.

Driver retention is similar, with Splinter saying once operators reach the 12-month mark with a company, their probability of staying increases.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • Pay your employee well!!! Treat them with the respect that you expect…..
    We spends hundreds if not thousands finding the best drivers. Then we handcuff them with rules and regulations.
    Trucking is the only profession ..and hopefully soon…trade….that you go to work to be fined for every mistake or error that you make.
    Think about it. Electrician wires a house wrong. He does not get fined. Hairdresser cuts your air wrong. No fine. Airline pilot blows a tire on landing and debris all over runway. No fine!!!
    But truck driver makes error in log book. Like not adding provincial code behind provincial town. Driver gets fined 150.00 plus out of service. BS for the trucking industry

    • I agree 100% withCarl. As a previous owner of an Alberta trucking company, drivers are not given respect they deserve. Since we have sold I have kept a truck and do some sub contract driving. Enforcement used to attend our driver meetings and say we need to work hand in hand. Well that’s not true, I had a recent log infraction myself and instead of enforcement helping to educate, they gave me a $300 fine. I made the error of telling them I went in on the prior weekend to look over old Smokey to make sure she’s good and didn’t account for that. Crazy.
      Also although I don’t need to earn the money I still enjoy trucking but I can’t believe how low on the totem pole drivers are treated by shippers and loading crews. It’s really opened my eyes to it as we also worked hard to treat our drivers with respect and sometimes maybe managers should ride with drivers to understand the conditions. We used to have a “walk a mile “ program where team was cross trained in every facet to understand everyone else’s job from mechanical to admin to warehouse and drivers.

    • You are so right truck drivers come to the industry and after 3 to 6 months leave after finding out that they have to work 70 to 80 hours per week when include dock time. Many other jobs in Canada are paying $25.00 plus medical insurance and over time. Truck drivers are underpaid by 30 to 40 percent compared to other jobs and what truck driver’s made in 1970.

  • I totally agree with what Carl said earlier. This industry is not attractive for young people at all because they can make more money having other jobs in town without been away from family and friends for so many days. A lot of experienced drivers retired due to ELD and what we have seen now is a race against the clock and very unsafe driving no parking for semi when your ELD getting close to run out of time even if you prepare before to stop doesnt mean you will find a safe spot to do so. A lot of issue needs to be addressed in the trucking industry and this job should had been a skilled trade a long time ago which is not. There is a lot of frustration for sure in the trucking industry. When was a snow storm in NY, PA few days ago they banned buses and trucks but not four wheeler than how the foods gets to the store or fuel to gas stations never mind CDL are more experienced driving through snow storms because that’s what they do for a living. But instead they allowed small cars to go to work and do their thing. Anyhow to much to describe in few words and nothing surprise me now these days.

  • There’s no driver shortage… just a shortage of companies that are worth working for.

    While you may not be able to please everyone, this bull of ‘competitve wages’ and ‘arcade games’ to test skills are indicative of laziness in the industry.

    A good company that keeps me around gives me the power of doing my own choices and respecting my professionalism. Not having a ‘Dr Phil’ type who never drove a truck, telling me what to do. Good mentorship and a pay without the silly excuses is a good start.

    (A Dr Phil type is someone who parades their so called knowledge but doesn’t apply it properly.)

    Very often, I was thrown under the bus. I was promised safety bonuses which many I was ‘theoretically a few km short’ of attaining and somewhat predictable time off. Detention pay is a major issur…. and until it’s an issue resolved, you can kiss a sizeable portion of qualified truckers goodbye.

    A company that doesn’t pay their drivers for detention is merely part of the problem. Those are the kinds of companies that are spineless and gutless, and often cower under the guise of ‘it’s standard practice…’

    Publishers of trucking magazines should take notice and listen to truckers for a change and not just the companies, executives or HR spine doctors.

    Let the lamenting begin and get your heads out of the sand!

  • All government does when they stick their nose in anything to do with free enterprise is destroy free enterprise in the country.All they do is create jobs for themselves at the cost of free enterprise,bring in more imigrants at a horrible cost to the citizens of this country.You do more damage to the free enterprise system than do terrorists to a country.

  • I agree 100% with Carl’s comment, we are a small carrier (under 15 power units) based out of Nisku, we have been in business nearly 12 years, many of our drivers/employees have been with us 5 plus years, a number of them since we started. Industry and Government needs to take truck driving more seriously and treat it as a “trade” I am all for an increase to safety on the roads, I keep a close eye on our workforce and our equipment and invest in both, I also see the number of in-adequate pieces of equipment out there and that is where the focus should be, not a fine to a driver for a clerical error in a log book.