Driver retention begins with the hiring process: Panel

Michelle Drew, Linamar; Caroline Blais, Kriska Group, and Ryan Fiorino, Gordon Food Service, discuss recruiting and retention practices during a presentation in Guelph, Ont.

GUELPH, Ont. – Ensuring prospective hires are a good fit for your company before hiring them is key to reducing costly driver turnover.

That’s especially true of entry-level drivers, who may not fully grasp the realities of life on the road. It was a theme that emerged from a panel discussion May 23, hosted by the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and held at Linamar’s Guelph, Ont., headquarters.

Caroline Blais, recruiting manager at Kriska Group, said she doesn’t get discouraged when new hires quit during the onboarding process, as it’s more expensive if they stay, only to leave after they’ve been assigned a truck.

“We have some who go part way through the process, have some doubt, and think over-the-road isn’t a good fit for them,” she said. “I’d rather have them do that before we complete the hiring cycle and go through the training process and then they decide being an over-the-road driver is not the right fit for them.”

Honesty and transparency about the nature of the work is critical, agreed Ryan Fiorino, safety and compliance manager with Gordon Food Service. His company has prepared a five-minute video that shows applicants what a typical day is like for its drivers.

“We’ve had a number of people say ‘Sorry, this is not for me’,” he said, noting the company’s drivers manually handle 20,000 lbs of product per day. “We want to make sure they are 100% prepared for the work.”

This also means being up-front about pay expectations.

“The first thing we talk about is compensation,” said Fiorino. “There is five to seven times more money spent on someone who is not successful, so we want to get that piece out of the way.”

Blais agreed, adding “Pay is one of the first things that is covered, and covered in a lot of detail.

At Kriska, entry-level drivers are a primary source of new hires, and that comes with challenges.

“They can be very costly to hire if we don’t structure the process properly,” Blais said. “The attrition rate on entry-level drivers can be quite high.”

She also notes driving skills begin to deteriorate the moment a newly-licensed driver stops driving, so if an applicant has been out of school for several months, she’ll encourage them to return to school to brush up their skills.

At Gordon Food Service, there’s a constant effort to promote other employees such as warehouse workers to become A/Z-licensed. That can cost as much as $20,000 per employee, so it’s important to be selective, said Fiorino.

“We find candidates who have been successful in their job, have good attendance, and have been recommended by their supervisors and we look at ways to get them into the A/Z program,” he said.

Once they’re hired, the real work of ensuring they’re successful is just beginning, according to Michelle Drew, human resources manager at Linamar. Her company provides about eight weeks of training before they’re turned loose. Phase 1, approximately a week long, is orientation and working on foundational skills such as backing. Phase 2, about four weeks, is in-cab on-job training, under dispatch but doing mostly local work under the supervision of a driver coach.

In Phase 3, about three weeks in length, the new hire is doing the complete job across the border with a trainer and learning the intricacies of the job such as paperwork, load security, e-logs, and scaling loads.

“At this point in time, their ability to operate the equipment should be pretty good and we are looking at broadening their skills,” Drew said of the final phase.

The risk of such a lengthy onboarding process is that impatient drivers can always go elsewhere, and be granted independence sooner. But Drew said Linamar doesn’t deviate from its onboarding process.

As for the quality of entry-level drivers seeking jobs, Blais said Ontario’s new mandatory entry-level training (MELT) program has not been a panacea. She suspects some training schools have reduced their training program from 200 hours to the 103.5 required under MELT and feels the quality of applicants has suffered since the program was implemented.

“The negative is just not knowing that every applicant we are considering has had the 200 hours we had seen in the past,” she said. “For whatever reason, I’ve seen a decline in the caliber of applicants in the road test. It may be MELT, it may not be MELT. The positive is, it has opened up the market. We are seeing fewer applicants than in the past who took the $999 program.”

While the attrition rate among entry-level drivers is high, Blais feels investing in them is worth it. She said when she acknowledges drivers for longer terms of service, “so many of those drivers started with us as entry-level drivers.”

As difficult as it is to find quality drivers, it’s equally challenging to find willing and capable trainers, Drew and Blais agreed.

“A lot of drivers aren’t interested in coaching,” Drew admitted. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of extra responsibility they’re not willing to take on.”

Blais agreed it’s difficult to find trainers, but stressed the importance of choosing the right people for the job.

“We don’t want to contaminate our newest hires by taking someone we already have challenges with,” she said.

To attract trainers, Gordon Food Service offers financial incentives, and also entices drivers who go down that path with the potential of promotion to supervisory positions down the road.

“Trainers have been plentiful for us,” Fiorino said.


James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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