Private fleets talk recruitment struggles and strategies

by Sonia Straface

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – While the driver shortage seems to have plagued a majority of for-hire fleets across the continent over the last few years, private fleets have managed to take cover and avoid it. Until now, that is.

At the first annual TTSAO conference in Mississauga, Ont. a panel of private fleet executives and experts spoke to attendees about the recent struggles the private fleet industry has had of late when it comes to recruiting drivers to replenish its fleets.

The panel consisted of Andy Walker, Ontario distribution manager of Molson Coors, Dennis Shantz, director of fleet services at Home Hardware, John Harrison, director of transportation operations at Huron Services Group and Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. They spoke about how the private fleet industry is changing its approach to recruitment thanks in part to the driver shortage.

All panelists agreed that the private fleet industry is no longer immune to the driver shortage and they each spoke to how the shortage is affecting their businesses differently.

“Private fleets generally never had to recruit,” said Millian. “At my last job, we never had to recruit. Our drivers would come in with phone numbers of other drivers who wanted to work for us and we had a waiting list. When I left there a year ago, these numbers decreased and the waiting list was down to just one or two numbers.”

Shantz said that Home Hardware is seeing a split. In the east, the company is not affected by the shortage and all of his trucks are full and there is still a flow of resumes that come in on a weekly basis, whereas in the west, finding drivers is a struggle.

Walker said that he still gets resumes, though the quantity of resumes crossing his desk has decreased significantly.

“Now instead of getting 50-60 resumes a week, I’m getting 20-25 and of those 20-25 that are coming through…maybe five of them have relevant experience,” Walker said.

The reason why private fleets didn’t have such an issue hiring drivers in the past is because of the advantages the private fleet industry has to work with.

The panelists said that private fleets have an edge over for-hire fleets, when it comes to finding drivers, because most have predictable routes for drivers who can build a healthy work-life balance by being home most nights of the week. This is a desirable quality for those who know about the unpredictable life of a truck driver.

“Predictive routing is a really big thing (for private fleets),” said Harrison. “When I first worked at Schneider I was gone for two weeks at a time and I rarely knew where I was going ahead of time and I never went to the same place twice…our guys know exactly where they’re going and when they’re going to be back home and we pay well at Huron. Quite frankly, we’re above average.”

Millian agreed with Harrison and the other panelists adding that, “Brand recognition is another advantage for private fleets looking to hire. You know what Molson Coors is, you know what Home Hardwareis…so you’d be willing to drive for brands you know.”

When hiring drivers, the panelists said that they highlight the benefits of driving and driving for a private fleet, while still being transparent about the realities of the trucking industry.

“When we’re recruiting guys, we focus on transparency and expectations,” said Walker. “The first touch with a new candidate is a phone conversation. And in that conversation we lay everything out on the table from drug screening, to all shifts, everything is out there. There is no hidden agenda from us and we don’t want a hidden agenda from them. From the get-go we tell them, ‘Here are the things we think you’re going to have a problem with, do you or do you not?’”

When asked what private fleets are looking for in new hires, the panelists unanimously agreed that attitude trumps all other qualities on a resume.

“Attitude is huge,” said Shantz. “You can always gain experience and knowledge with us through proper training. But I’ve always been a believer that it’s very difficult to change someone’s attitude. An attitude is going to reflect how they are going to be representing your company and that’s important to us.”

Attitude is so important to private fleets because Shantz says that drivers are much more than just people who move product, they are brand ambassadors.

“Our drivers see our dealers more than anybody in the company and they are seen by the public more than anybody in the company,” he said. “So they’ve got to have that right attitude and they’ve got to be willing to go that extra mile.”

Millian added that most private fleet drivers also wear uniforms so it’s not just their attitude on the road and in the cab that matters, it’s how they conduct themselves in public.

“If you see a driver in line and he’s acting (up), it’s the logo on the shirt people will remember,” said Millian.

Attitude is so important to private fleets, that Shantz, Walker and Harrison said they are even willing to overlook a driver’s experience if their attitude is right.

“If they have a great attitude we are willing to bend on experience,” said Walker.

Harrison agreed adding that Huron recently hired a driver straight out of school who was willing to learn the ropes and was open to being mentored by a senior driver.

“Now he’s out on his own and he’s working out really well for us,” he said.

However, said Millian, what fleets shouldn’t and won’t bend on is a poor driving record.

“That cannot be overlooked,” said Millian.

Going forward, panelists agreed that private fleets need to work in conjunction with training schools to combat the shortage, through proper training with a focus on manual transmissions and hours-of-service rules so they are confident in hiring younger, newer drivers.

“I used to say it all the time as a driver trainer,” said Millian, “if you go through a well-certified school, when you’re done you know 5% of what you need to know. The other 95% will come on the job.”

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  • Great article on drivers shortages, however we must get the Federal and Provincial governments to change the designation of unskilled worker to skilled, and then as Manitoba and Ontario have started set a driver training standard. Current training standards are not even sufficient for operating a car, let stand a commercial vehicle weighing up to 60 tons and having articulating points. As well regulations for each jurisdiction, computer skills, mechanics etc etc must be taught. It is a highly skilled occupation!!

  • I left the trucking industry in 2011 after 20 yrs of driving. I drive a highway coach now and get paid very well. I would never work for the wages and demands that trucking offers again. Pay drivers a weekly salary of $1500 and the driver shortage will no longer exist.

  • Many years ago, I had an employment offer from Labatts in London as I generally pulled B trains with 140K pounds. The conversation went well, until I started asking questions ! As it turned out, it wasn’t Labatt’s, but a driving agency that supplied Labatts with drivers. To make a long story short, I was offered $15 hour to start, with zero benefits. (I was then earning $19.99 hour plus full benefits.) As Billy stated, $1500 week, to run legal hours, would be a minimum starting point !

  • I have seen here out west BC. Alberta and Saskatchewan the rate per mile seldom start at 40c/mile to around 49 or 50c it is a great change and with the ELog it will have to increase even more since now, say you start in BC going to Calgary well some are saying you could do it in11 hours not all true since the weight dictate the speed you would be able to achieve so in term of money the log will show almost no miles done that day because of mountain weather condition so 50c/mile wont cut it.

  • I enjoyed the article Private fleets talk recruitment struggles and strategies. I am in recruiting and found some very valid points in the article. An article that I would like to see, would be one that deals with good driver retention for smaller transportation firms.
    It would interesting to see what these smaller fleets are doing to retain their drivers. I worked for a larger firm and have moved to a smaller firm and both had good driver retention, but I believe there is still more that could be done.