TREATING truck drivers as professionals and giving them some control over their day-to-day activity is essential in carriers' efforts for retention, said Bob Lunt, a Schneider National veteran driver.
Lunt, Steve McCormick of TMW Systems, and Dan Baker, a trucking industry consultant, discussed driver issues in separate presentations during the TMW 20th annual User Group and Vendor Showcase October 22-25, 2006, in Chicago, Illinois.
“Drivers should feel that they are part of the company team,” Lunt said.
Baker said that “drivers don't leave companies. They leave people.” He emphasized the importance of simple interaction, such as managers knowing a driver's name. “Don't use a nickname,” he said. When dispatchers can recognize a driver's voice on the telephone, the awareness improves the relationship even more. “Make the driver feel that someone cares about him.”
Good communication between dispatchers and drivers about real-time situations offers drivers encouragement, gives them the feeling that they have some influence in the situation, and improves their overall outlook of the job, Lunt said.
He added that misunderstandings often occur with new hires who may be juggling a truck driver's lifestyle, as well as acquiring driving experience. For that reason, carriers must be honest with drivers about what will be expected of them and what the job requires.
“They often train to the ideal, but reality turns out to be something different,” he said. Lunt added that if a driver trainer is too aggressive, the new hire may become discouraged.
Baker said orientation should be brief and fun, followed by three goals: get them rolling, get them paid, and get them home.
The easier the job function, the more satisfied the drivers, said McCormick. If complete information is available to them, drivers have a sense of independence and power. “At the same time, there is a huge value in getting information (such as road conditions and vehicle problems) from drivers,” he added.
“And don't forget to say thank you,” Baker said.
With a data base program, carriers can track driver birthdays, anniversaries, safe miles, and seniority, and contact drivers accordingly to congratulate them. On-board (or drivers have laptops or home computers) messages can be sent automatically so that drivers see them when they boot up their equipment, McCormick said.
There are many reasons that drivers decide to leave a job, but often they are put off by a lack of professional treatment, not only from employers, but from personnel at shipper locations.
McCormick noted that issues involving pay are some of the reasons drivers quit a job: pay rate and the accuracy of amount paid (or the perception that the pay is inaccurate when it is not).
He said that driver turnover can cost a carrier from $5,000 to $25,000 per driver, depending on the circumstances. Expenses occur from recruiting costs such as advertising and staff involved in the effort. When a driver leaves a company, equipment is idled and customer service may suffer, both factors impacting expense.
Safety is another aspect in putting new recruits in the cab. McCormick said statistics indicate new hires are more likely to have accidents within the first 90 days on the job. Software tools can ease carriers' tracking of new driver performance, McCormick said. A TMW program allows a priority code for new drivers that can return data showing production and hours-of-service, which can indicate whether the drivers are getting enough work to earn the pay that they were initially promised. The program will reveal which drivers don't have loads assigned and who is available.
“We want to keep these guys productive for their sake and for the sake of the carrier,” he said.
A mentoring program that matches veteran drivers with new hires can prove effective, especially for beginners who are having initial problems on the job. However, Lunt pointed out that each driver experiences the workplace in a different way and addresses life over the road in a variety of approaches. “It's all an individual thing,” he said.