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Beyond the Usual Checks

In these times of high driver turnover, carriers have two choices: They can keep hiring warm bodies as quickly as possible and watch them churn at rates exceeding 100% for some segments; or they can take more time, spend more money, do more thorough screenings and predictive assessments and hire drivers who most likely will stick around longer. To some it's an even tradeoff. To others, the latter

In these times of high driver turnover, carriers have two choices: They can keep hiring warm bodies as quickly as possible and watch them churn at rates exceeding 100% for some segments; or they can take more time, spend more money, do more thorough screenings and predictive assessments and hire drivers who most likely will stick around longer.

To some it's an even tradeoff. To others, the latter choice is the only way to go. “As the market for drivers gets tighter, some people take the attitude not to put up more hurdles. I don't agree,” says Kelly Anderson, president and CEO of Impact Transportation Solutions, Neosho, MO.

Anderson, who was manager of CFI's recruiting department for 10 years, teaches fleet managers to use an approach to recruitment that involves more personal screening of candidates. He admits that it's more time consuming, but believes the dividends it pays are worth it. “Learn about what the driver wants in the job,” he suggests.

He trains managers to do the extra screening — but at an accelerated pace so they don't miss out on the best drivers and end up hiring the leftovers.

Hiring leftovers can be expensive. The average cost of hiring a new driver is between $5,000 and $9,000, including a hiring bonus. But most drivers who leave will do so within three to four months, several months before the five to six-month break even point.

Although these numbers vary from fleet to fleet, one fact remains the same: hiring warm bodies does not work anymore.

Not only is churn a disruptive and net loss proposition on the face of it, but hiring an unsuitable driver compromises safety.

“We've been concerned about how turnover affects safety,” notes Dan McNamee, vp for capacity development and human resources at Comcar Industries. Like the new wave of enlightened hirers, he prefers the old-fashioned method of interviews face-to-face instead of by phone.


McNamee says the most important aspect of hiring drivers is to make sure that the applicant understands the job. “The job has to meet the driver's needs. There has to be a fit.”

To make sure the fit is correct, Comcar performs a physical assessment of the job and then tests the driver for these skills. For example, a tank truck driver assessment would include the physical ability and mental grit to climb on top of the tank. “Some folks physically can't do it,” says McNamee. “Others just don't like heights, so this job is not for them.”

Their hiring practices have helped shave turnover from 98% to 56 % year-to-date. “Our objective is 35%, and we can do it with continued hard work and commitment.” Lowering turnover was especially crucial for Comcar because its break-even point on drivers is about a year.

Rim Yurkus, president and CEO of Strategic Programs, Denver, analyzes why drivers leave their jobs. By working from this back-end data, fleets can understand what motivates drivers and then better align their offerings to the driver pool.

One interesting discovery from worker surveys in general is that people who stay in their jobs will excuse failings of the position if their first and second top needs are met. “This is important,” says Yurkus, who tries to learn the “trigger reasons” why people leave. For example, a person whose top need is that they like the people they work with will accept lower-than-desired pay or even poor hours if the primary need is met.

Through surveys of more than 17,000 drivers, some startling results have emerged. “Money only accounts for 17% of why drivers quit. For one in five drivers, the main reasons for quitting are things like [lack of] respect, autonomy, transparency and reasonable company policies.”

The best managers realize the hot point for each driver and tailor the job to that need. For example, while some drivers abhor waiting for loads, others take it in stride. “The best managers know which load to give which driver.

How U.S. fleets got into the high driver turnover predicament is just as instructive, according to Yurkus. He sees it as a natural cycle of jobs in America. Truck driving is a tough, somewhat old-fashioned vocation that requires hard work, long hours and a true commitment to getting the job done.

“In the past, large waves of immigrant workers would take these difficult positions, like the Chinese who built the railroads,” he says. The special screening requirements of truck driving — especially hazmat certification — have blocked many immigrants from the driving pool. “Now, carriers have to think about motivating drivers, a concept that is new to many of them.”


One carrier that has benefited from these exit interviews is Boyd Bros. Transportation, Clayton, AL Vp-operations Tres Parker says that the company has already done one data “extraction” and wants to do a second, larger sample.

The survey fits within the Boyd Bros. culture of finding a common ground with each driver and getting down to a personal level with them, Parker explains.

One of the company's mantras is early and honest communication with drivers. “We work hard not to mislead drivers [about the job]. Too often, drivers come into carriers with so little trust. We don't want to make it worse.”

Parker says that his company is trying to change by “being there” for the drivers, which means trying to add the personal touch to reach each driver. “Drivers are so isolated on the road and it's difficult to touch them daily. The daily Qualcomm messages are okay, but you need the personal touch.”

Adds Parker: “You know, there are not a lot of change agents in the trucking industry. It has been slow to change and realize that they must ‘touch’ the driver every day… More than anything else, I want my fleet managers to have people skills.” In that vein, the exit surveys will be used to hone training curricula.

Smithway Motor Xpress Corp., Fort Dodge, IA, surveys drivers every quarter to learn why they quit, says sr. vp-operations Tom Witt. The TL carrier is in its third quarter of data collection and analysis. So far, in one quarter the company has lowered its turnover from 109% to 89%.


What Smithway has learned from exit interviews has opened their eyes to problems they didn't even know they had. “One surprise was that the drivers liked the benefits, quality of our equipment, pay package and the safety culture,” says Witt. “On the negative side, we learned that drivers felt they were not getting enough feedback — both good and bad — and that was an eye-opener for us.” This fact led to a training module for managers on giving positive feedback.

Smithway operates nine regional fleets and extrapolates the data in different ways to suit the individual fleets. Across the board, however, Witt says that 42% of its drivers leave in the first 90 days.

He points to one exception, the 250-driver terminal in Rapid City, SD, which enjoys a close-knit culture. “Turnover there is 27% because of how they treat drivers.”

The Rapid City experience and the exit surveys show Witt that a company's culture has to change internally and that drivers want to be treated with how they define respect.

Fleets are finding that other high- tech, high-touch screening devices are powerful ammunition in the turnover wars, too.

Doug Klippel, senior consultant at Tulsa-based Hogan Assessment Systems, says that many fleets are using its pre-employment testing to make sure applicants are suited to truck driving. His main clients are in the truckload segment. The pre-employment screening test takes about 20 minutes and can be done in person, on the web or linked to a carrier's website.


The Hogan Personality Inventory, as adapted for the trucking industry, checks for three main attributes that fleets would like to see in prospective drivers. The first is what Klippel calls “prudence.” People who score high in this are detailed oriented, follow rules and stay vigilant. Perfect traits for a truck driver.

The second is “adjustment,” which looks at emotional stability. Those who score high work well under pressure, are resilient and don't get stressed by shift work. Again, good traits for drivers, who must perform under tense conditions.

The third attribute is “sociability,” which indicates whether someone is introverted or extroverted. While it's obvious where successful truck drivers should place in the first and second categories, the third is a little trickier.

Should someone who drives alone all day be introverted? Not necessarily, because they need to interact with other people during stops and on the phone. On the other hand, if they're extroverted and need constant stimulation from others, then truck driving may not be the vocation for them.

Carriers decide how much weight to give each attribute — but especially so for the last category “We let carriers take the lead on this one,” says Klippel.

Another screening program making gains in trucking is ProScan, a behavioral assessment tool that tests a person's strengths, work styles and preferences. Greg Mechler of The Human Advantage, a training and consulting company in Plano, TX, administers the test, which can be used during and after the hiring process.

Mechler learned about the program in 1989 when he was operations manager at Dart Transit Company where it was used to help drive down turnover from 97% to 48% in 12 months at the Fleetline division.

Drivers fill out a questionnaire that Mechler describes as “easy to administer, non-threatening” and almost “impossible to fake.” The test is divided into three parts: an individual assessment, job modeling and team management profile. The cost is about $15 per scan (based on a volume discount) for a web-based questionnaire. ProScan can also be used to select fleet managers.


While these tools are extremely helpful and some would consider them mandatory to survive in our current hiring environment, they're not legally required. Even though these checks may deplete the driver pool further, some fleets do them because they can lower insurance costs and offer shippers a greater comfort level.

Many carriers have already been running criminal checks on back-office and warehouse workers, and are now extending this to drivers. This is especially true for private fleets that have traditionally checked criminal records for all company employees.

“In private fleets, criminal checks are already part of the hiring process,” notes Ed Emerick, senior consulting practice manager of Neenah, WI-based J.J. Keller & Associates.

“I do a lot of work with hazmat and they're being very cautious who they put in the driver's seat,” he says. “They're checking current personal and business references. Many of my clients in the private fleets are hiring internally, so these people are already checked out, or they're hiring from references of current workers.”


The ease and low cost of additional background checks are putting these procedures on many fleets' must-do list, according to Justin Reed, executive director, association and industry relations at USIS, the largest supplier of background investigations to the U.S. government.

“Criminal checks are not mandatory, but they have exploded in recent years,” he says. “The service has become inexpensive compared to prior years and so fast that many carriers now say: ‘Let's do it.’ We have met the market at the break even [cost] point.”

Reed says that about 3,000 carriers have used the company's services, including 95 of the top 100 truckers. He expects the company to offer instant monitoring of motor vehicle records, which would give carriers immediate information about a driver's conviction, perhaps as soon as this fall.

When asked why fleets don't use the myriad of available personality assessment programs, screens and other background checks, Mechler notes: “Truckload carriers in particular are often penny-wise. They don't want to pay attention to the driving environment, how management interacts with drivers. The good ones have figured this out, but the others haven't.”

  1. 10 Things Every Recruiter Should Do

    HAVE A SENSE OF URGENCY. Drivers would rather be spending time with family, eating, sleeping, driving or playing sky crane for stuffed animals than talking to recruiters. Recruiters need to give drivers every reason to go and do one of those five things and quit calling other recruiters as a result of talking to them.

  2. ANSWER THE PHONE QUICKLY. If drivers reach voice mail or an automated voice system, over 50% will hang up.

  3. TRACK ADVERTISING. If recruiters don't track advertising down to the source of their hires, they won't know which advertising sources are working. This could result in canceling the wrong advertising.

  4. GET AND USE THE DRIVERS NAME. Drivers will decide to accept your offer of employment because they trust the recruiter. Getting and using their name builds trust and relationships.

  5. USE CONVERSATION TO GET THE APPLICATION. Use conversation to identify the drivers specific needs and fill the application out as the conversation flows. This will save a lot of time.

  6. GIVE CONTINGENT OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT. Let the driver know you are interested and invite them to take some sort of action. Give them a reason not to call another recruiter.

  7. UTILIZE ON-LINE REPORT SERVICES TO GET INSTANT EMPLOYMENT, MVR RECORDS AND TO ORDER CRIMINAL RECORDS. You can run most reports while you are still on the phone; this helps to make informed offers of employment.

  8. FAX SIGNED RELEASES. This helps to speed the qualification process and notify the driver of his/her rights.

  9. FOLLOW-UP ON LEADS. Recruiters must have the mindset that once a driver is in their “system” no one comes out of their system until they decide they come out of the system. Make the most out of every lead by proactively following up on them.

  10. UTILIZE THE INTERNET. In a recent ATA survey identifying “Driver's DNA,” a majority of the drivers surveyed said they would use the Internet for their next job search.


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