Driver retention takes center stage at TCA

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Against the backdrop of a limited labor pool, trucking industry executives say listening to drivers is the key to stopping high turnover.

It was a central theme during a panel discussion about driver retention at the 2018 Truckload Carriers Association convention, featuring Garth Pitzel, director – safety and driver development at Bison Transport; Trevor Kurtz, general manager of Brian Kurtz Trucking; Jet Express president Kevin Burch; and Ray Haight, co-founder of InGauge Driver Retention. 

Burch says labor issues are taking center stage in an environment where ELDs and other new tech have combined with an aging driver population and increasing load availability. It’s no longer just enough to hire new drivers. Fleets need to work on keeping them as well. 

Pitzel

Retention is no longer just about compensation, either. Kurtz says he’s spoken with fleet managers who can’t keep drivers for any amount of money. 

“I’ve never seen the environment we’re in now,” he says.

The panel advised asking drivers what they want – whether it be cleaner trucks, a better work-life balance, or a better relationship with their dispatcher – and implementing the changes to demonstrate that fleet managers take the feedback seriously.

“It’s what you do with [the information] that counts. Put it back out there,” said Kurtz. 

It’s not enough to just implement the occasional change. Instead, survey drivers to identify the top 10 changes drivers would like to see, and then communicate the steps being taken to implement the changes. It demonstrates input is valued.

“If they believe that their wellbeing is at the forefront of your business decisions, they’ll follow you along,” said Haight. 

The panel said changes are often as simple as putting a coffee machine in the driver room. It’s the small changes can make for happier drivers. Kurtz carries gift cards in his pocket to spontaneously reward drivers he feels need recognition.  

Haight says it’s also important to ask drivers what their favorite and least-favorite accounts are and why. Bad accounts including interactions with rude personnel, drop-offs with no washroom access, or long weight times to complete a load, could be some of the reasons drivers quit. Fleets need to look at their worst accounts and decide whether their effect on turnover is costing more than the value of the related business. 

The panel said the lessons of working with millennials are also helping keep older drivers.  

Changing routes to allow drivers to work four-day weeks or just weekends, providing a better work-life balance or semi-retirement for some, is helping to keep drivers in the seat. 

The average driver is 53, 10 years older than the average worker in other industries, but even keeping them on for part-time work will help fleets to keep loads moving.

Kurtz and Pitzel have become more flexible when hiring younger drivers as well, and not just with the schedules. 

Kurtz no longer asks for two years of verifiable employment when hiring younger drivers, instead choosing to take them into an extending training program that includes mentoring by other drivers. 

Pitzel says he looks at young drivers before they’ve secured a commercial driver’s license, focusing on hiring an individual that will fit well with the company and then directing them into a training school, instead of just hiring anyone who can operate a truck. 

Whether focusing on recruiting new talent or keeping the talent you have, the panel said a driver-first mindset needs to be in every area of the company. 

“It really comes down to people believing in it and supporting it every day,” said Pitzel. 

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