Changing view of drivers

Fleets both large and small continue to struggle to find ways to recruit and retain drivers. Growth is our biggest challenge right now and driver retention is a huge part of that, Brian Brown, national account manager for flatbed operations at Missouri-based truckload carrier Prime Inc., told Fleet Owner. All parts of the trucking industry are struggling with the same thing how to make driving a truck

Fleets both large and small continue to struggle to find ways to recruit and retain drivers. “Growth is our biggest challenge right now and driver retention is a huge part of that,” Brian Brown, national account manager for flatbed operations at Missouri-based truckload carrier Prime Inc., told Fleet Owner. “All parts of the trucking industry are struggling with the same thing — how to make driving a truck more desirable.” It's a struggle, however, that could be easing a little bit from the acute situation of the past year - giving fleets some much-needed breathing room to take stock in how they manage drivers.

Nashville-based economic forecasting firm FTR Associates projects slowing freight growth in 2005 could allow fleets to work off some of the record driver shortage that accumulated during the last 18 months. It predicts that the driver shortage will continue to shrink, with 2005 ending with a shortfall of 33,000 drivers.

However, the firm cautions that any upturn in freight demand will reverse this trend and significantly impact the industry's need for additional drivers.”

Dale Lawless, president of Lowell, AR-based driver retention consulting firm LPS Inc., said the industry must refocus its resources to improve the lot of drivers, much the way it has done to improve its trucks and business technology.

“For the last 10 to15 years, there has been a large amount of money and time put into technology that has made trucking profitable and streamlined,” he told Fleet Owner. But he said the one area in which things have not changed is the human element that operates the truck.

“The way drivers are initiated into a company will be their first impression of how the company will treat them,” Lawless warned. “What type of rooms are they staying in? Is the food decent? Are the trucks clean and operational? Is someone tracking their miles the first 30 days and making sure their pay is correct? Has someone called their spouse to verify the emergency number is correct and answer any questions about the company? Does the company ensure the home-time policy is enforced?”

How a fleet handles these issues right from the beginning can affect how long drivers stick around. “It's important that everyone who encounters a driver understands how a trucking company makes or loses money,” Lawless noted. “How we manage drivers is a larger problem than most companies are willing to admit; dispatchers are the lifeline of the driver.”

He also pointed out that how well a driver performs is a direct reflection of the ability of his or her dispatcher to manage people.

“I visited a company recently where one dispatcher had gone through 38 drivers in two months,” he said. “When asked about this turnover, the dispatcher said, ‘They weren't any good.’ Yet other dispatchers had less than 33% turnover. It's all about good management.

“Trucking companies are putting retention programs under the microscope because even though most meet their goals for hiring, they have tremendous turnover,” said Lawless. “Most trucking management is aware of this imbalance — and the smart ones are doing more to retain drivers.”

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