Break away

Set your own course to secure drivers Louis Capolino is concerned about the shortage of drivers that continues to dog trucking managers, especially those at the helm of truckload fleets. As vice president of operations for Venezia Transport Services Inc., he knows whereof he speaks. The 30-year-old, family-owned truckload carrier, based in Limerick, Pa., fields a fleet of some 350 tractors and over

Set your own course to secure drivers Louis Capolino is concerned about the shortage of drivers that continues to dog trucking managers, especially those at the helm of truckload fleets. As vice president of operations for Venezia Transport Services Inc., he knows whereof he speaks. The 30-year-old, family-owned truckload carrier, based in Limerick, Pa., fields a fleet of some 350 tractors and over 700 trailers. Roughly 80% of the fleet's vehicles have company drivers at the wheel.

"As the one responsible for operations at an aggressively growing trucking firm," says Capolino, "I'm often asked what I think the industry will be like in 10 years. All we need to do is look back five years to see where we are headed in the next ten. From my vantage point, there is no issue that overrides that of the continued availability of qualified drivers."

Capolino contends that throwing money at the problem - whether in the form of signing bonuses in the $7,500 neighborhood or pay of 70› a mile - is not the answer.

"The answer is not to initiate an upward spiral in rates of pay and benefits that, in the end, would strangle revenue and cost jobs," says the veteran manager. "The answer instead is to change our corporate culture."

Making his case, Capolino argues that most trucking companies provide basically the same service, pay basically the same wages, and offer basically the same opportunities of professional growth and advancement to drivers.

And that, according to Capolino, presents an opportunity for trucking managers who are willing to break away from the pack. "In the coming years," he explains, "companies that keep their driver's seats full will be those that set themselves apart in some tangible way other than pay and benefits.

"Fleet owners and managers must create a work environment that is appealing and unique," he continues, "one that makes it easy for drivers to stay.

"For most companies, this will mean a change - from the top down - in the way we do business with our most valued employees and our most important internal customers."

Capolino's recipe for success includes these measures:

* Make sure that in-house operations personnel understand the life of the driver. "There's no better understanding than walking - or in this case, driving - a mile in their shoes. Schedule `ride-alongs' and, in turn, have drivers spend a little time inside for a shared reverse experience."

* Ensure that equipment works properly and meets or exceeds industry standards. "Emphasize maintenance and shop practices. In turn, make sure mechanics understand their vital role in providing quality customer service to drivers."

* Create a team environment that fosters belonging. "Never treat any driver, especially when they call in with a problem, like an inconvenience or an outsider, no matter what the time or circumstance."

* Look at the company through the driver's eyes. "It's important to see things from the viewpoint of those who you are trying to attract and keep as employees."

* Play for keeps. "Make driver retention a primary component of your company's business strategy, customer-service policy, and overall company philosophy.

"If we treat drivers like commodities, like replaceable parts, like outsiders, they will act accordingly," Capolino says. "But treat them like members of the family and like your most important customers, and they'll respond by remaining a loyal, hard-working, and important part of your company's future."

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