Make driving more enjoyable and more drivers will stick with it.
All work and no play make anyone vulnerable for burning out on the job. A popular explanation for high rates of driver turnover is that drivers are by nature an ornery, independent lot always just a step away from lighting off to greener pastures.
A nice, neat explanation but too negative to be truly helpful to any fleet manager serious about reducing driver churn. A more positive, and thus more actionable, view was expressed by Marc Gustafson, president & CEO of Volvo Trucks North America Inc. when addressing the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn. at this year's Mid-America Trucking Show.
"We continuously hear our customers say they'd buy more trucks - if only they could put a driver behind the wheel," he stated. "In addition to the sheer lack of drivers, today's rate of driver turnover is simply not acceptable." Amen.
"The fact is a truck driver's life is a tough one," Gustafson said, "filled with compromises that most of us (in management) will never encounter."
As for how to make an end run around this obstacle, he suggested that the industry should strive to make the task of driving not just more productive, but more enjoyable, too.
Gustafson declared that no industry has greater potential to enhance work and leisure time simultaneously than this one. "Trucking is a profession that is also a lifestyle," he explained.
"But drivers don't want to sacrifice time with their families - and given the shortage of drivers, we can't afford to allow today's scarce supply to leave the profession," he continued.
Along with listing numerous ways truck OEMs are working to bridge the gap between business and lifestyle, Gustafson suggested the industry "must also look beyond the vehicle."
Indeed, industry suppliers can only do so much to impact driver shortages and churn rates. Even the most comfortable, stylish, technologically advanced trucks in the world won't alone hold onto drivers.
Fleet managers must also analyze how they are treating their most important human capital, the men and women they depend on to deliver the goods.
Making trucking an attractive lifestyle is certainly about more than cushy cabs and even attractive pay rates. It must also be about respect for the individual.
That's why it's a good idea to regularly review how easy your fleet is for drivers to not just work for, but to live with. Start by checking up on how driver-friendly you're making the rules of the game.
For example, are there policies in place to quickly address driver concerns about equipment performance and to get drivers home on weekends or for important family events?
And, above all, do all maintenance personnel, dispatchers, and other employees who interact with your drivers follow such "work rules," or are they just so many words on a page?
Speaking of words, get beyond the operations manual and make an ongoing effort to educate everyone, from top to bottom in your organization, on how much their livelihood depends on the largely unseen but critical work performed by drivers.
When it comes to drivers, out of sight should never equate with out of mind. Nor should fleet managers be satisfied with accepting driver churn as an unavoidable cost of doing business.
Rather, embracing driving as both a profession and a lifestyle should go a long way toward convincing more quality drivers to join - and stick with - your fleet.