DRIVERS: How to Find and Keep the Best

March 1, 2008
As lean and nimble small motor carriers, it would seem as though we're at a distinct disadvantage in attracting drivers. We're not self-insured, which means our insurance carrier dictates a lot of the criteria used to find drivers. We have to hire drivers with at least two years of OTR experience. And to top it off, we don't have the multiple sources of revenue to cover the cost of driver turnover.

As lean and nimble small motor carriers, it would seem as though we're at a distinct disadvantage in attracting drivers. We're not self-insured, which means our insurance carrier dictates a lot of the criteria used to find drivers. We have to hire drivers with at least two years of OTR experience. And to top it off, we don't have the multiple sources of revenue to cover the cost of driver turnover.

Most turnover takes place during a driver's first year on the job. A company may have an overall turnover rate of 60%, but the “newbie” flight (those first-year hires) can exceed three or four times that amount. We'll call this “driver churning.”

We all know the drill: A driver is hired, goes through orientation, is teamed with a driver-trainer for a time, and is then allowed to go out on his own. Within the next few months, he's complaining about not being paid for the real miles he's driving, having to wait too long to be loaded or unloaded without pay, not getting home when he needs to, not making the money he was told he'd make — and so on. The next call we get is the “Come get your damn truck” call and the cycle starts again.

As with most problems, the cause is fairly easy to find — and believe it or not, it's not just about the money. There are several factors that contribute to driver churning, but its root can be stated quite simply: “What we have here is a failure to communicate” (from the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke”).

Communication must begin during the recruiting process and continue through the entire time the driver is a part of your company. The biggest complaint drivers have about the recruiting process is that they're not told the truth about what they're getting themselves into.

There are three key things that a trucking company must provide:

  • Reasonable compensation for all hours required to perform the duties of driving, loading and unloading a truck.

  • Consistency in pay from week to week.

  • Scheduled time home.

    But the most important task you can perform in finding the right driver is to listen carefully for information:

  • What are this driver's needs and wants?

  • What is his family going to expect and need?

  • What are his expectations in terms of money, time at home, type of equipment and amenities?

  • What are his career goals — in the next year, three years, five and beyond?

  • What are his personal financial requirements — mortgage payments, car payments, other debt and personal financial goals? Are there any other income sources to cover those expenses besides the trucking job?

Listening for information from this potential hire will assist in determining if either his expectations or financial requirements don't match what you can provide. The most important part of this process is making sure you're telling him the whole story. Tell your driver applicants all about your operation: the good, the bad and the ugly. Give them every opportunity to ask for the details.

Don't hide anything; it's only fair that everything be divulged. Most people don't like surprises — especially those that could have a negative impact on their income.

Ironically, the biggest complaint from new drivers is that they are given incomplete information during the recruiting interview. In some cases, recruiters tell applicants what the recruiters think they want to hear. In other cases, applicants hear only what they want to hear.

There's nothing worse for a new driver than finding out that the rosy picture painted by a recruiter — the one who lured him away from his previous carrier — is not quite accurate. Learning something during orientation that makes the driver realize this new company may not be a good match does not bode well for a quality relationship. The carrier ends up with a driver who feels trapped and duped.

One way to avoid these misunderstandings is provide applicants with a Q&A sheet. He must fill in the blanks with the information your recruiter provides him. The recruiter should have a similar Q&A sheet to note all the answers the trucker provides. At the completion of the interview, the recruiter and trucker should exchange these sheets and go over the information to be sure nothing is misunderstood. The more complete the information, the less likely you'll end up with a disgruntled driver.

When the trucker and recruiter have reviewed and corrected any misunderstandings on their Q&A sheets, each of them signs his respective answers as to truth and validity. After copies are made, the applicant and recruiter should review the information privately to determine whether they think the driver and carrier are a good match.

Driver retention really begins during the recruitment interview. The more information exchanged by driver and recruiter during the initial hiring process, the better the driver understands and accepts the circumstances and idiosyncrasies of your company's operations and procedures. Think of it more like researching the wants, needs and requirements of both your company and the prospective driver. It's not a question of right or wrong, but rather a process of determining compatibility.

The more knowledgeable you are about the driver's wants and needs, and the more knowledgeable the driver is about your company's policies, the stronger the relationship will be. You want to create a valuable, long-term business association. Remember, you're developing a relationship with each driver, not selling a product.

Help each driver discover the carrier that is a good match for him. If you take the time to communicate with drivers honestly, you'll be able to retain the best ones. If you don't, you'll find yourself in a driver churning situation, which will lead you down a path of frustration and service failures.

Forward-thinking communication builds a strong, long-lasting driver/carrier relationship. This will create better customer service and better profits for your lean and nimble small business.

Contact Tim Brady at [email protected] or 731-749-8567.

About the Author

Timothy Brady

Timothy Brady is an author, columnist, speaker and business coach who provides information, training and educational presentations for small to large trucking companies, logistics organizations and community groups. He’s the business editor for American Trucker Magazine, the “Answer Guy” for trucking education website, an author and business editor for Write Up The Road Publishing & Media and freelance journalist. An expert in crafting solutions to industry challenges after 25 years in trucking, Brady’s held positions from company driver to owner-operator to small trucking business owner. Along with sales and business management, he has a well-rounded wealth of experience and knowledge.

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