Driver Hiring: A Failure to Communicate

I recently spent an afternoon with a small fleet owner, Brian Taylor of Liberty Linehaul in Ayr, Ont., who wanted to know how he could entice drivers — good drivers — into his operation.

He shares a problem with most fleets these days in that he can’t attract the talent he needs to move all the freight he has. Taylor might be a bit unique because he’s in the LTL business, a field that drivers don’t take to readily, but his pay package makes the extra effort more than worth the driver’s time. He has several company drivers earning in excess of 70 grand a year, and many more pulling down considerably more than $60,000.

I know of another small LTL operator that pays owner-ops more than a buck-fifty a mile, while requiring nothing more than payment of the base plate, and he’s no more successful than Taylor in attracting owner-ops.

At the same time, I get more calls than I care to talk about from drivers complaining about being screwed out of fuel surcharges or demurrage time, losing their holdback to a bunch of bogus charges, or being left high and dry by an insurance policy that won’t pay but about 75 percent of the bluebook value for a wrecked truck.

Taylor’s overarching question was why do drivers continue to work for lousy carriers when there are good jobs going begging? We spent four hours debating the question that afternoon and failed to come to a conclusion, but among the suspects: marketing, education, employee support, and honesty, among others.

We talked about how carriers spend millions of dollars on software packages to track driver performance and prescribe appropriate mileage to pay drivers while one of the biggest irritants for drivers remains getting shorted out of a few miles here and there by the difference between shortest and practical routes on the mileage program. Taylor pays hub miles and works with his drivers in planning out their own routes.

Rather than relying on the software, he encourages his drivers to think on their feet and plan deliveries according to schedules, etc., not simply a practical route. Often, he says, drivers faced with traffic congestion or an early closing will choose a route other than the recommended one to get the freight delivered. Come payday, his drivers are not shortchanged for running off route, instead, they are rewarded for using their heads.

Taylor’s approach sends a more positive message than fleets that insist on paying shortest mileage in a situation where it’s clearly not the most practical route. Drivers react negatively to that kind of management, and given their choices today, it’s incumbent on fleets to look at what they can do to minimize the irritants. Why risk losing a good driver by shaving 20 or 30 miles off a trip because the computer says there’s a shorter way?

A good driver today pretty well has his or her pick of where to work, yet if you could spend a day answering my telephone you’d come away shaking your head at what you hear from drivers. Sure, some are whiners, impossible to please, but many are guilty of nothing more than being poorly informed. They don’t know how to make money.

I wonder how many carriers have ever spent a day with their drivers talking about cost per mile or dollars per hour, explaining how the pay package works so the driver can take advantage of all the earning opportunities?

Taylor says, and I have to agree, that many of his competitors just don’t want the drivers to know how to make money. Or how poor their pay system is, how one-sided the contract is, or how the insurance policy is stacked against them.

If I were a carrier today hoping to attract the best of the best drivers, I’d sure be out there marketing my fleet as a place where drivers can make a good living, and I’d be explaining exactly how my pay package worked for them, not against them. And I sure wouldn’t be spending money on software that creates problems: I’d be using it to my driver’s advantage. There’s only so many of the good ones out there — why drive them off to your competitors?

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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