Fleets highlight safety, offer flexibility to hire in-demand drivers

Fleets are constantly on the lookout for drivers. Signing on an experienced professional who will hang around for a while is like striking gold.

Trucking HR Canada data shows there are more than 23,000 vacancies in the industry right now, warning that could skyrocket to 55,000 by the end of 2023.

As older, experienced truckers retire and not many young people are interested in getting behind the wheel, fleets crowd around a shrinking pool of qualified personnel, seeking to attract talent.

Picture of Tim O'Brien, Vikram Jit Singh and Bianca Ricci
Pride Group’s Tim O’Brien, director safety, compliance & recruiting, Vikram Jit Singh, hiring and compliance, and Bianca Ricci, senior marketing manager. (Photo: Leo Barros)

This was evident at the recent Truck World in Mississauga, Ont. Carriers’ booths were buzzing with activity as recruiters, drivers and owner-operators mingled – scoping out talent and seeking opportunities.

Carriers are keen to sell their safety record, schedule flexibility, pay and perks to the discerning, picky and in-demand driver who is seeking a change.

Geoff Topping, vice-president, people and culture at Challenger, says ideally the company would like drivers to stay out five days at a time, but understands it is a challenge in today’s world. “We are flexible and try to work with drivers on different schedules. They can also move within our divisions – van, flatbed, bulk, refeer or containers.

Alyssa Couvillon, senior director of human resources at The Erb Group of Companies says the carrier has something for everybody. With eight locations across Canada drivers can choose local, regional, Western Canada and international work.

Picture of Alyssa Couvillon
Alyssa Couvillon, senior director of human resources at The Erb Group of Companies. (Photo: Erb)

‘What is your rate per mile?’ is the question recruiters get asked most frequently. That is important, fleet officials say, but drivers must also look at the total package.

Some carriers have benefits and RRSP programs, pay into CPP, and offer fuel and performance bonuses. They also emphasize when all work done by drivers is paid for – including pick-ups, drops, border crossings and waiting time at shippers and receivers.

Fleets highlight their culture, and it is important to them that drivers buy into it. And they all are focused on safety. Newer equipment that is well maintained is a big draw. Who doesn’t want to drive a shiny new truck?

Fleet expectations

Drivers must also bring certain attributes to the table. Vikram Jit Singh, hiring and compliance at Pride Group, says safety is his priority. He looks for a consistent employment history. A driver changing jobs three or four times in a year is a red flag.

Caroline Blais, recruiting manager for Kriska, focuses on long-term goals and expectations during the hiring process. Discussions include work-life balance and how long the driver is comfortable staying out on the road.

“I make sure drivers understand that they will have to sleep in the truck at truck stops and ensure that their personal situation supports that kind of work,” she says.

Driver Subrata Debnath came to Truck World on his day off looking for a company that is focused on safety and has a good reputation.

Picture of driver Subrata Debnath
Subrata Debnath (Photo: Leo Barros)

He has a year and eight months of experience under his belt, including cross-border work and dreams of becoming an owner-operator. Debnath, who had a bad experience with an employer over the safety of his truck, says earning money is important but safety is paramount.

Another driver who did not want to be identified was looking for a job that would suit his schedule.

What drivers want

He prefers working Monday to Friday and taking the weekend off. He was also looking at his schedule being set up in advance. After returning from a five- or six-day trip at his present company, he gets calls asking him to head out the next day. He was also looking for a reputable fleet that runs well-maintained equipment.

Rob Swyntak, safety and recruiting manager at SM Freight does not sugarcoat a driver’s role and responsibilities just to attract new hires. He informs them there will be night driving. They may have to work some weekends, miss some birthdays, and maybe even spend Christmas on the road.

“We don’t tell them what they want to hear, and later they say this is not what I signed up for. I don’t paint rosy pictures. You get to see the world, but drawbacks are you are not at home, because that’s how the industry runs.”

Many drivers fresh out of driving school complain it is hard to find work, but fleets are hiring.

Picture of Geoff Topping
Geoff Topping, vice-president, people & culture at Challenger. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Challenger offers a finishing program for new drivers. Topping says if a candidate graduated from a Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario member institution and passes a road test, they are enrolled into a six- to seven-week finishing program.

“It starts in the yard with backing and cornering. This is followed by city and over-the-road training. Then an evaluation is conducted and if they are successful, they proceed with orientation,” Topping says.

Training program

Erb typically hires candidates with a minimum of 12 months experience but will consider individuals will less than that. The carrier offers a training program for new drivers that has a waitlist due to its popularity. Couvillon says the company has a list of approved driving schools at which the curriculum has been reviewed.

“The road test offers insights into their skills and the training program is tailored for an individual, typically spanning a few months using driver coaches,” she said.

Blais says Kriska does hire drivers straight out of school. They undergo a minimum of four weeks of one-on-one instruction before they can work on their own. Training takes place with an in-cab instructor, not as a team.

Picture of Caroline Blais
Caroline Blais, recruiting manager, Kriska. (Photo: Leo Barros)

The training team assesses their performance weekly. “Anyone with less than a year’s experience has to go through the training program, it may not be the full four weeks, it depends on road test, orientation and performance,” Blais says.

Although word-of-mouth is a popular way to hire drivers and employees are paid for referrals, the pandemic has taught employers to also use online tools.

Bianca Ricci, senior marketing manager at Pride Group uses job advertisements and social media, including Indeed, Facebook and Kijiji. “But you’d be surprised at how many owner-ops are on LinkedIn and it is a good tool.”

Kriska has added an artificial intelligence component to its online arsenal. Blais says, “A person can go to our website in the middle of the night, chat with ‘Olivia’ and get more information about us.”

Retention

Once the driver is hired, companies want them to stay. Fleets place a heavy emphasis on driver retention. Free lunches, coffee cards, swag and birthday gifts are on offer. Carriers are keeping communication lines open, listening to driver feedback, and implementing changes where necessary. Many in senior management have an open-door policy – drivers can walk into an office and discuss their issues and problems.

Not many young people are interested in trucking. The long work hours and days out on the road are not attractive. Challenger’s Topping, who started his career as a driver, says the industry needs to promote itself to young people. “It can provide well for your family. Nowadays there is more flexibility on how many days you want to be out.”

In the current climate, experienced job seekers are literally in the driver’s seat as they choose where to work and new graduates are finding employment opportunities. Driving is a tough job, but fleets are trying to make the ride as comfortable as possible.

By Leo Barros