KITCHENER, Ont. — For someone who has never run a trucking company or been a professional driver, Mark Murrell sure knows a lot about what drivers are looking for in an employer. The president of online training firm CarriersEdge is also co-founder (with partner Jane Jazrawy) of the Truckload Carriers Association’s Best Fleets to Drive For competition and as such, has conducted thousands of driver surveys and hundreds of fleet interviews over the six years the contest has been run.
One of the objectives in launching the program was to recognize the best driver-focused programs employed in the trucking industry, but also to share those best practices so that the industry as a whole could make itself more appealing to drivers and prospective drivers.
To this end, Murrell has conducted a cross-Canada seminar series each of the past four years, through which he shares some of the best programs and initiatives unearthed during the Best Fleets to Drive For selection process. Truck News and Transportation Media are sponsors of the series. We caught up with it May 14 in Kitchener and compiled the following report. The tour resumes May 21 in Saskatoon, with seven more dates to follow. The half-day seminars are free to attend.
The driver surveys and fleet interviews conducted each year serve to identify emerging trends, including driver compensation. Murrell noted income for company drivers has been increasing about 2% each year, primarily due to a corresponding increase in miles run. Owner/operators have fared better, seeing their income increase while their miles have decreased. Among the Top 20 winning fleets, average annual income for company drivers was $58,355 and gross income for O/Os was $175,077.
Company drivers with the Best Fleets averaged 113,812 miles in 2013 while O/Os averaged 115,186 miles. One of the themes that emerged in last year’s driver surveys is that most drivers prefer to be paid extra based on performance rather than seniority. A strong majority (80.53%) said bonuses should be paid for performance, not tenure.
Murrell discovered another interesting trend: that commonly-offered referral bonuses aren’t that important to drivers. Of the drivers surveyed, 77.3% said they’d refer their company to other drivers and 67.73% of them said they were not influenced at all by the existence of a referral bonus. Only 11.7% of drivers surveyed said they were “strongly influenced” to recommend their company to other drivers because of a referral bonus.
In 2013, Murrell noted many of the programs that were innovative and progressive during the initial years of the Best Fleets to Drive For program have become mainstream.
“There’s a new normal in terms of programs drivers are being offered,” Murrell said. He offered driver scorecards as an example. “We’re pretty much to the point where everyone’s doing it,” he said. “If we come across a fleet that doesn’t have driver scorecards, that’s more of a surprise.”
The use of social media has also become commonplace within the industry.
“It has really gotten to the point where everybody we evaluate has a Facebook page,” Murrell said.
The biggest trends to emerge last year that may become mainstream in future years, is the provision of technologies to drivers for business and personal use. As an example, Springfield, Mo.-based Steelman Transportation, identified last year as one of the top five Fleets to Watch, gives every new owner/operator a free laptop computer.
Grand Island Express gives every company driver and O/O an Android tablet and Emerald Park, Sask.-based DJ Knoll equips drivers with iPhone 5s.
“They’re putting good technology in everybody’s hands,” Murrell said.
Taking it a step further, Murrell said some fleets are developing their own apps to assist drivers and O/Os with things like document scanning. Prime Inc. is one such fleet and 4,000 of its 6,000 drivers have taken advantage of it and downloaded the free app, putting to rest the idea that truck drivers are not technologically adept.
“Building mobile apps is a lot cheaper than it used to be and my bet is that over the next year, we’ll see more fleets going in this direction,” Murrell noted.
Another trend discovered in 2013 is that fleets are now employing trainer rotations, ensuring every new hire gets seat time with each of the company’s driver-trainers. This way, the newbies get access to the strongest elements of each trainer’s repertoire and they’re less likely to pick up bad habits passed along by a single trainer.
Carriers that were identified as the Best to Drive For are also doing more in the area of public image campaigns, Murrell said, revealing a correlation between community outreach and happier drivers.
MVPs: Most Valuable Programs
Some of the driver-oriented programs uncovered through the Best Fleets to Drive For evaluation process stood out as being truly unique and innovative. Load One Transportation & Logistics of Taylor, Mich. has implemented a loyalty program for drivers. They earn points for doing things well (ie. safety, fuel economy and on-time deliveries), which they can then redeem for a wide range of prizes.
Central Oregon Trucking is a flatdeck fleet that built a cargo securement training facility at its terminal, where drivers can be trained on and practice tarping and tie-down procedures. A harness system was built into the roof to keep them from getting hurt.
But the fleet that stood out for providing the most driver-focused programs was Prime Inc. Its home terminal offers everything from a daycare centre to a full-sized basketball court. When the swimming pool required $60,000 in repairs, owner Robert Low asked drivers if they’d prefer the pool to be fixed or for the money to be spent constructing a new outdoor park with picnic tables and grills. Asking for their input meant a lot to drivers who participated in the survey, Murrell said.
Prime also has taken steps to make fleet managers more accountable, including linking more than half their compensation to the performance of the drivers they oversee.
“At Prime, fleet managers are incented to ensure their drivers are making money,” Murrell explained. “All those fleet managers spend time coaching drivers, capturing data, working with drivers and sharing best practices.”
Prime also makes affordable education available to all its employees. Rather than just donating money to a local university, as it once did, the company now sets aside a portion of that money to go towards tuition for its employees.
The Bison benchmark
As administrator of the Best Fleets to Drive For program, Murrell is often asked by fleet managers what they can do to become a more driver-friendly fleet. In Canada, the question he hears most often is “How do we beat Bison?”
Bison Transport has been a four-time winner in the competition and this year was named overall winner in the company driver category.
“They think differently,” Murrell said. “They view the world in a different way and they approach the business in a different way.”
He pointed to their Winnipeg headquarters, which is more representative of a tech company HQ than a truck terminal. Companies participating in the Best Fleets program are scored across a wide range of metrics and Bison achieved an overall score of 96.27% – the highest ever seen since the program was launched six years ago.
“They are really setting the bar high in all these different areas,” Murrell said.
One of the successful programs employed by Bison is Flex Time, which gives drivers the ability to work a schedule that fits their lifestyle – whether it’s 25 days a month, or one. The size of Bison allows it to offer regional, long-haul, LCV, domestic and cross-border runs – whatever type of work a driver is looking for. Murrell also said the idea is to be able to retain drivers as their needs change throughout their career. When a young driver starts a family, they can exchange long-haul work for local runs, or as their skills develop, train to become an LCV driver.
Bison also pays shift premiums for night and weekend runs.
“Drivers are incented to do the things they didn’t want to do before,” Murrell said. “Now, Bison doesn’t have nearly as much trouble getting people to do those runs.”
Bison also has a Neighbourhood Watch program that ensures drivers aren’t subjected to hostile environments. Drivers are encouraged to report abusive shippers and other not-so-trucker-friendly facilities.
And Bison involves drivers in key decisions through its Driver Advisory Boards.
We’re a good, safe fleet. Why didn’t we win?
While some fleets wonder how they could improve their workplaces and look to Best Fleets winners for guidance, others bellyache about not being selected. The selection process, Murrell pointed out, begins with a driver nomination. Any North American for-hire fleet with 10 trucks or more qualifies for nomination.
From there, the fleet must decide whether or not to participate in the evaluation process. Last year, 89 of 98 fleets nominated agreed to play along. (Murrell noted the percentage of nominated fleets that agree to go through the exhaustive evaluation process has increased each year).
Best Fleets administrators then conduct driver surveys as well as interviews with the nominated carriers. A list of finalists is decided upon, which is then broken down into peer groups.
The finalists are scored on their programs, driver satisfaction and results (ie. safety records and retention rate).
Categories that are considered include: compensation; HR strategy; operational strategy; performance management; driver development and career path; and work/life balance.
“It’s more than a popularity contest,” Murrell said.
The sophisticated scoring process even takes into consideration the impact flatdeck work, or a fleet’s willingness to employ new entrants, has on turnover. Each year, the scoring mechanism is modified to reflect emerging trends.
Perhaps the biggest change to the scoring process will come next year, when instead of naming overall winners in company driver and owner/operator categories, the competition will instead create small fleet and large fleet categories. This is because the number of carriers who run owner/operators exclusively is small in comparison to those that hire company drivers or a mix of both.
The new categories, Murrell said, will also create more opportunities for small fleets.
Best Fleets by the numbers
25: The number of trucks run by the smallest fleet in the top 20, TimeLine Logistic
12: The number of Top 20 winners who were also among the Top 20 last year
7: The number of Top 20 fleets that have placed there for three or more years
98: The number of fleets nominated
59: The number of fleets that made it to the finals
6: The number of years Best Fleets to Drive For has been run
$58,355: The average annual income among company drivers working for the Top 20 Best Fleets
$175,077: The average gross income for owner/operators driving for the Top 20 Best Fleets
0.278: The average number of DOT-reportable crashes per million miles driven by the Top 20 Best Fleets
– Want more insight on the best practices employed by the Best Fleets to Drive For? Check out the July issues of Truck News and Truck West for a composite sketch of a best fleet. Or, you can catch up with any of the remaining seminars scheduled for this Spring. Click here for a complete schedule.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies