FOR-HIRE FLEET OF THE YEAR

When the supply of something your business cannot run without remains under threat despite the ministrations of an entire industry for years and years it's high time to reinvent, well, the wheel. There are fewer people available to drive trucks than 20 years ago and that will only continue to be the case, says Todd Jardin, senior vp-operations for Schneider National, which fields some 15,000 drivers,

When the supply of something your business cannot run without remains under threat — despite the ministrations of an entire industry for years and years — it's high time to reinvent, well, the wheel. “There are fewer people available to drive trucks than 20 years ago and that will only continue to be the case,” says Todd Jadin, senior vp-operations for Schneider National, which fields some 15,000 drivers, about 80% of whom are company employees. “To keep moving ahead, we felt we had to intervene and change the way we think about the driver market.”

Driving home how serious Schneider is about its new approach, Jadin remarks that the reality is “there are not a lot of families sitting around talking about their children perhaps becoming truck drivers.”

Simply put, says Jadin, that's why Schneider decided it had to tackle the driver problem fresh. The trucking giant has lost no time moving ahead with its newly designed “three-prong approach to tackle the key issues of driver schedules, driver pay and how drivers are treated whenever they interact” with Schneider.

“We then put programs in place against each of these three issues to drive our approach to drivers in 2005,” reports Jadin.

Scheduling is tough of course “because driver work is by its nature irregular,” he points out. “They may not know exactly what they will do over a given period but we are going to tell when they'll leave and when they'll return” from a trip. Jadin notes making this happen requires “a degree of work and discipline on the part of our dispatchers and we made technical enhancements to our route optimization software.

“We also make OTR drivers aware of new opportunities in our dedicated and intermodal operations that offer much more predictable schedules,” he adds. “And to help matters, we're also doing more targeted hiring geographically and we are seeking more non-traditional driver candidates.”

Second to none in importance to drivers is pay, and Jadin reports Schneider's approach in 2005 has been to invest more in driver pay than it ever has.

“We try to target these dollars to specific activities; pay needs to reflect the work drivers are doing today,” he says. “That may mean a combination of a linehaul rate and taking into account other work done, such as at a dock.”

The third leg of the stool — reflected in the other two as well — is that seemingly intangible sense of how drivers are treated. “It's easier said than done,” Jadin remarks, stressing it's vitally important not to overlook this key factor.

What has Schneider gained from taking these innovative approaches to drivers?

According to Jadin, the results are impressive inside of one year. “We are enjoying a higher retention rate this year then we had in '04 or '03,” he states, “and we continue to outpace the industry considerably in driver turnover. And we feel having a longer tenured workforce helps deliver a lower cost of operation for our fleet.”

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