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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Voice of the Truck Driver

Special Report thanks to Perry Townsend, Group Director, Ryder Dedicated Transportation Solutions

The professional truck driver shortage isn’t news anymore. With just about every industry publication writing articles on the subject as well as mainstream newspapers, television and online coverage, it is something the industry and most of North America is well aware of. Surveys show the truck driver shortage is the top concern for fleet managers, and it will be for years to come. While there is an overabundance of articles and research on the driver shortage, there is a lack of information on one of the main ways companies can overcome the shortage – listening to the voice of the driver

"We expect the problem to get worse in the near term as the industry works to find solutions to the driver shortage." - Bob Costello, chief economist, American Trucking Associations (ATA), Inbound Logistics

Numerous surveys ask fleet managers why they believe drivers are leaving or what they are doing for prospective and current drivers. However, drivers are rarely asked what they want from the company they work for. While industry research and information is a strong base, going directly to the source – in this case the drivers – always yields the best results. One best practice to give transportation managers some of the answers they desire is to conduct a post-hire interview with a driver within six weeks of starting with the company. A second best practice is to create a driver council made up of a mix of veteran and new drivers who give insights to fleet managers from the view of the driver’s seat. Lastly, conducting an annual survey allows your drivers to voice their likes, dislikes, concerns, and ideas. Using all three of these practices has confirmed some of the results from surveys of fleet managers and executives, but it also has unveiled many new opportunities for the industry to be able to recruit and retain drivers. MORE THAN JUST PAY In most industry surveys and communications with drivers, increased pay is the top desire for drivers. However, this would be the case for any industry or job title not just transportation. The use of pay raises to improve retention has jumped more than 13 percent across the trucking industry from 2014 to 2015 , and is expected to continue to increase in the coming years.

As carriers continue to increase driver pay, others in the industry follow suit to stay competitive. An increase in pay does not only mean salary or per mile rate, it may also include better benefits such as enhanced healthcare coverage and 401(k), as well as paid vacation.

 In listening to the responses from drivers, the difference between increased pay and other factors is not as drastic as some research shows. In many instances, drivers have equally ranked increased pay, respect from managers, predictable home time, and reliable equipment as the reasons why they should switch jobs. The definition of respect is broad and varies from company to company. For drivers, respect includes open communication with managers and fair treatment from dispatchers, along with holding recognition events for drivers and thanking them for a job well done. Often drivers have said their expectations for the job don’t always match the job description. Clear and detailed job descriptions help manage expectations and help drivers understand where they fit into the big picture. Regular communication between the manager and driver will help answer any questions and level set expectations. Managers should have daily contact with local drivers whenever possible. For remote drivers, speak to them once per week on the phone and have a meeting once per month. For newly hired drivers, assigning a mentor (senior driver) can help with onboarding and retention. Having a mentor allows the new driver to voice their concerns with someone, who can inturn speak to the managers. However, a mentor should not be a substitute for daily communication between the new driver and manager.

These tactics will ensure expectations are met for both the driver and the manager. Regular communication also allows the manager to work on correcting issues including diminishing downtime for the driver, while giving more say to them, including the possibility of picking their own routes. While letting drivers choose their own adventure is not always possible, giving them predictable home time is. Just as everyone else wants to spend time with family and friends – going to a child’s ball game, dance recital, or school play – professional truck drivers want to do that too. At Ryder, 9 of 10 drivers are home every night. Equipment is another area of concern for drivers. Whether it is having a reliable and clean truck, or comfortable conditions at maintenance shops, drivers deserve the best possible working environment. According to the National Shippers Transportation Council, restrooms are among the top complaints of drivers. Kimberly-Clark Corp., was recently praised for installing new restrooms and well-stocked rest areas for drivers at its distribution centers. They are not the only ones updating infrastructure and cleaning driver facilities at service locations.

Delays and breakdowns are driver’s biggest headaches, and not having reliable equipment is one of the top contributors to these delays. Should drivers need to take their trucks into a shop, improving the infrastructure of the shop should be top priority for service centers. This includes making sure the driver’s lounge is comfortable and the showers are clean and free of mold. The latter is a common complaint from drivers throughout the industry.

Transportation companies are also doing several things to improve the reliability of and comfort inside trucks. This includes switching to automatic transmission vehicles, improving the ergonomics of the truck, and properly maintaining the vehicle. A COMMITMENT TO DRIVERS Drivers are the most important employee for transportation companies. It is time managers and executives listen to their voices. The industry is short more than 35,000 drivers and that number continues to grow. Managing through the driver shortage means having a strong recruiting, training, and retention program. The key to developing a program is not just using industry research and executive surveys, but also from the comments, concerns, and desires of current and former drivers. Recruiting and retaining drivers is not all about money and benefits. The industry has found through driver surveys, exit interviews, and the formation of a driver’s council that lifestyle flexibility, dignity, respect, and honesty are just as valuable to drivers. But the definitions of all those terms are broader than you may think. That is why opening the lines of communications with drivers will ensure expectations are met and concerns are addressed. Soliciting feedback from drivers on an ongoing basis can provide valuable information to companies in the trucking industry. One of the goals of speaking to drivers should be to validate industry research, and more importantly to understand what issues affect your drivers the most. No matter how many surveys of executives and managers are conducted, the information does not compare to that directly coming from the men and women who sit in the driver’s seat day in and day out.

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