Mating Money and Lifestyle

In recent months with soaring freight volumes and the lack of trucks on the road to haul it all, the buzzing trucking industry has been reciting a mantra that you may have heard by now: You are in demand. But being in demand means not only you can get paid more for each load, you also have the clout to go out and choose the jobs that fit the lifestyle that you want. But of course, the old rule that

In recent months with soaring freight volumes and the lack of trucks on the road to haul it all, the buzzing trucking industry has been reciting a mantra that you may have heard by now: You are in demand. But being in demand means not only you can get paid more for each load, you also have the clout to go out and choose the jobs that fit the lifestyle that you want.

But of course, the old rule that never gets thrown out the window is “money talks,” which is an idea carriers today certainly have not overlooked. Carriers haven’t been this aggressive in offering high salaries and added cash incentives in years.

For example, recently truckload giant Schneider National Inc. launched a recruiting campaign offering experienced owner-operators $5,000 up front to sign up to operate throughout Pittsburgh and the nearby areas, backed with claims that such drivers will generate $135,000 to $145,000 annually.

Todd Jadin, Schneider vp of operations, told DRIVERS that sign-on bonuses are perhaps the most dramatic improvement in overall cash flow an owner-operator can expect these days. “One of the benefits that is very apparent across the industry is a sign-on bonus. Although they’ve been a part of the industry, the $5,000 we’re offering for an experienced driver or independent contractor, is substantially higher than it’s been,” Jadin said.

Of course, Schneider is not the only carrier on the block that is offering beefed-up incentive packages, as carriers across the industry are reporting they are investing more than ever in drivers. This is a fact that can be determined by simply comparing a carrier’s quarterly balance sheet.

Perhaps the real challenge these days for owner operators is not to simply find a way to fatten the bottom line, but to find a way to mate increased cash flow with the ideal work environment.

Dale Corum, operations manager of Louisville KY-based Mercer Transportation Inc., a company that manages an all-owner-operator fleet, told DRIVERS that accommodating the lifestyle of an individual driver can be just as important— if not more so— than money. “Some drivers want to maximize earnings, others home time,” Corum said.

“One driver we have in Pennsylvania wants to be home every Friday so he can pick his son up from school,” Corum explained. “Even cash flow needs vary. Some drivers need to make $15,000 a month— others only $6,000 a month. We need to balance those things as we look to schedule freight.”

And now more than ever carriers are likely to accommodate loyal, hard-working drivers with generous incentives. “The quality of our drivers speaks for itself. For example, one of our best teams— Leonard and Charlene Testerman— took 120 days off in 2002. And yet they still made over $150,000,” said Corum. “They are one of our top revenue producers and get requested by name frequently.”

Schneider’s Jadin said that striking a balance between the needs of the driver and the needs of customer has been a challenge as the carrier is seeking to accommodate both sides. “Once they [drivers] inquire about work and opportunities, we have a variety of options that meet their lifestyle.

“The work is certainly an important component, as is pay and the way you treat the individual driver,” Jadin said. “The key to retaining a driver is predictability— we should be able to provide the driver with a predictable work schedule, predictable income and predictable treatment.”

And one of the perks for working with a large truckload carrier such as Schneider, is that drivers are able to pick and choose from a sizable selection of specific work assignment that best suit their needs, Jadin said.

“What we offer is a series of opportunities…we have dedicated driver opportunities— those are drivers assigned to a particular customer account— that makes for more predictable scheduling. We have regional opportunities— jobs in which their work is defined by the geography. We have a number of driver jobs that are local and intermodal in nature— that allows for a different level of predictability,” Jadin said.

In fact, mating a driver’s lifestyle with the assignment that accommodates it is what Schneider is counting on to retain drivers. “The best thing on the front end is to make certain that your expectations and the company’s expectations are congruent,” Jadin said. “Many times what will happen is what you think you’re getting into is something different— that could get drivers off to a rocky beginning that they may never overcome. It comes down to an accurate understanding in what kind of driving you’re getting into— we make sure to discuss with drivers thoroughly on these expectations.”

Mercer’s Corum also underscores the importance of solid communication between the owner-operator and carrier to ensure the two are able to achieve a successful working relationship. “The only service we have to offer is owner-operator service, so we look at owner-operators as a business partner and they see us vice versa as well.”

And with that respect, it is imperative for both to be a good match for each other. “We don’t want them [owner-operators] to come in here and be disappointed. That’s why before we hire them, we ask how often they want to be home and what equipment they carry on their truck. If they are not a good match for us, we don’t bring them on— it’s not fair to either of us if it’s a bad match,” Corum said.

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