Cast a wide net

Even as fleets wrestle with new engines and new hours of service regs, many must also keep battling high waves of churn in the driver labor pool. Estimates of the turnover rate over the past two years run as high as 120%, so certainly no magic bullet has been found to find and keep drivers. And it stands to reason there never will be. Just as the best way to catch a lot of fish is to have a variety

Even as fleets wrestle with new engines and new hours of service regs, many must also keep battling high waves of churn in the driver labor pool. Estimates of the turnover rate over the past two years run as high as 120%, so certainly no magic bullet has been found to find and keep drivers.

And it stands to reason there never will be. Just as the best way to catch a lot of fish is to have a variety of tackle on hand, the best way to attract and retain these most sought-after of employees is to deploy an array of lures.

But like everyone else, no two drivers are alike. So no two drivers are necessarily going to be won over and, just as importantly, retained by the same employment draws. Some may appreciate getting the finest equipment in the land. Others may be far more impressed by the dollars and cents that a comprehensive benefits package adds up to. And some may like being able to easily spend more planned time with friends and family. Heck, some may want it all.

One fleet that seems to get this is Tulsa-based Melton Truck Lines. The fleet says on its website that it “has been successful in recruiting and retaining some of the finest flatbed drivers in North America.”

That may well be because it offers such blue-ribbon benefits as base pay plus tarp pay, layover pay, extra stop pay and even New York city pay. There's a 401(k) plan (with a 50% match up to 7% contribution); free $20,000 life insurance; health/dental/vision insurance. There's paid vacation plus six paid holidays a year; safety rewards program; fuel-saver bonuses; a liberal rider program and in-cab email access.

Not content just to line their drivers' pockets and help keep their attitudes up with that range of goodies, Melton also makes sure to appeal to drivers' appreciation of fine transportation. People who become truck drivers tend to like to drive trucks and naturally enough, they like to drive very nice trucks.

Melton takes that thought a bit further than most fleets running premium equipment to draw drivers. It lets its top drivers actually spec out their trucks.

The carrier's “Ambassadors of the Road” program recognizes those drivers who've driven one-million safe miles for the company and who are regarded as dedicated and loyal to the carrier. Melton, which currently has 45 Ambassadors on its rolls, says the program has helped reduce its driver turnover rate.

“The Ambassadors [status] is a goal for drivers who have been with us for awhile,” explains Pat White, vp of safety, loss prevention and human resources. “They see the recognition and benefits that Ambassadors receive. When we started this program [in 1998], we wanted to acknowledge the accomplishments of these drivers and distinguish them within our fleet. Each driver has won many awards and honors for safety, courtesy and productivity.”

Melton rewards its Ambassadors by allowing them to special-order a Kenworth W900 or T600. And instead of driving one of the carrier's signature blue Kenworths, these drivers can choose from among nine exterior colors as well as from a list of interior colors. Ambassadors may also spec up to $1,500 in options, such as refrigerator, aluminum wheels or dress-up chrome. “These Kenworth trucks look great and our other drivers see these as an incentive for excellent driving,” White points out.

Each Ambassador also receives a personalized leather jacket and special decals mounted on their truck noting the honor. Once a year, drivers join Melton Truck Lines' owner and president Bob Peterson for brunch.

“This is a phenomenal program,” reports Allan Johnson. An Ambassador since 1998, he has logged over 1.5-million miles with Melton. “You can't help but swell up with pride. Other drivers say they can't believe it's a company truck.”

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