Fleet executive panel says driver image, engagement critical to solving shortage

By Aaron Huff on
CCJ editor Jeff Crissey interviews a panel of fleet executives at the 2013 CCJ Fall Symposium.

CCJ editor Jeff Crissey interviews a panel of fleet executives at the 2013 CCJ Fall Symposium.

In the next decade, the trucking industry must add 239,000 drivers, per year, to keep up with freight demand and replace the 37 percent today’s drivers that will retire. A panel of fleet executives discussed solutions to this pending crisis, Dec. 4, at the CCJ Fall Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The panel agreed that improving the public’s image of the transportation industry is the single biggest obstacle for attracting new drivers to the profession.

“We need to turn that ship in the right direction,” said panelist Keith Tuttle, president of Motor Carrier Service (MCS), a 100-truck carrier based in Toledo, Ohio. As part of the discussion on how to improve public image, the panel, moderated by CCJ Editor Jeff Crissey, discussed the Trucking Moves America Forward campaign, a new industry program.

Don Lefeve, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), added another obstacle to solving the crisis — federal and state funding for CDL schools. Congress has not dedicated funds to train workers for a career in transportation. CVTA represents 180 locations that train 50,000 drivers a year. The association has about 20 carrier partners that hire entry-level drivers.

Tuttle said MCS does not hire straight out of driving school. The company with its regional, Midwest operations received the 2012 “Best Fleet to Drive For” award from the Truckload Carriers Association. Its turnover rate is about 27 percent, he said.

“The best hire is somebody who has got experience. There is a much higher turnover rate with guys who are right out of school,” he said. In recent months, however, Tuttle has noticed an alarming trend among his long-tenured drivers. “Drivers who are leaving now have been with us for 10 to 15 years.”

Tuttle didn’t have an explanation for why long-tenured drivers are changing jobs, but he expressed concern about the dwindling supply of qualified drivers.

“Most good carriers will not hire a large percentage of drivers,” he continued. “We will look at one out of 150 applications sent to us. We do very well financially but we are frustrated with our ability to show substantial growth with the driver situation right now.”

Panelist John Hancock, director of training and driver recruiting for Prime, Inc., added that the carrier sees a large number of applicants who, for various reasons, are not employable for any job due to serious flaws in their work history. Prime, based in Springfield, Mo., has 5,300 power units and 6,300 drivers with tanker, reefer and flatbed operations.

Prime has a turnover rate of 61 percent, far below the average rate for large truckload carriers. The company is focused on creating opportunities for its employees and contractors to maximize their income and see trucking as a good career choice.

“We need to generate a work force that wants to do this,” he said. “People want a good job.” The definition of “good job” varies by person, he added, but everyone wants a good income and opportunity for growth to fulfill their basic needs.

Hancock cited studies from a book, The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton, that 20 percent of people in the United States are underemployed. The book also says only 28 percent of employees are engaged and trying to line themselves up with the company’s objectives. Fifty-three percent are not engaged and are “just showing up.”

“We want to have much a higher number engaged,” he said. “We believe in weekly measures. All associates are paid this week based on what happened last week.” Drivers also receive a weekly fuel bonus.

“If we can give people a vehicle to accomplish (income growth), they will come and be part of that,” he said.

MCS will be raising driver pay this week, Tuttle said. About half of its drivers made over $55,000 last year. Some made more than $65,000 and are home 10 to 13 nights per month on average. Its drivers are also involved in planning routes and rating customers.

“We actually fired a good customer three weeks ago for some of their detention policies,” Tuttle said.

The panel agreed that health and wellness programs are part of the solution to creating good jobs for drivers. Prime has created a “Fittest of the Fleet” competition in addition to participating in TCA’s Weight Loss showdown. The panelists also agreed that having new equipment spec’d with creature comforts has become standard fare for attracting over-the-road drivers.

Aaron Huff

Aaron Huff is the Senior Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. Huff’s career in the transportation industry began at a family-owned trucking company and expanded to CCJ, where for the past 12 years he has specialized in covering business and technology for online and print readers and speaking at industry events. A recipient of numerous regional and national awards, Huff holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Brigham Young University and a Masters Degree from the University of Alabama.

6 comments
Bissegger
Bissegger

I am so tired of people complaining about the driver shortage.  I was always taught, if you have a problem with something, offer up a solution to the problem as you see it.  I am now a loss control manager for the transportation division of an insurance company.  But once upon a time, I owned a trucking company and also served as a safety director of a 70-power unit carrier...long before the recession, when everybody's favorite topic was also the driver shortage.

 

My first suggestion to those drivers who complain about being treated so poorly by their employer, shipper, receiver, etc. - Get a new job!  If you are really that good of a driver and deserve more respect, find a carrier that will treat you the way you want and deserve to be treated.  They truly are out there.  If you can't find one, then maybe you need to take a good long look in the mirror, as well as your PSP report and your MVR.  If good drivers stop working for bad carriers, then the bad carriers will finally go away.  As a driver, you MUST do your homework before jumping to a new carrier.  You can't just walk down the street to the next carrier, and the next one, and the next one.  Use the interview process not just as an opportunity for the carrier to interview you, but also interview them - are they the type of carrier YOU want to work for?

 

As a safety director, I got tired of having a revolving door and conducting multiple driver orientation's on a weekly basis.  So I found a solution to my driver turnover problem that also corrected my driver shortage problem.  I asked drivers why they were leaving our company, then I fixed those problems.  This was not an overnight fix and was often painful as I pushed our operations to terminate relationships with profitable customers who treated our drivers badly.  I made sure dispatch was kind to our drivers and gave the drivers respect. We recognized drivers for a job well done when it happened as well as at our annual driver awards banquet.  By the time I left, when every other competing company in our area was still battling the "driver shortage," I had a stack of driver applications on my desk of drivers waiting to work for us.

 

Don't just complain about the problem.....Look in the mirror, figure out what is causing the problem and then fix it.  If you keep doing what you've always done, you will continue to get the same results.  And remember, CHANGE IS GOOD!

SpiritCDL
SpiritCDL

Drivers are treated inhumane; they are expected to work and not get paid, they are expected to be away from loved ones, they are expected to sleep and eat when told, they are expected not to shower, they can't call in sick or easily get a doctor/dentist appointment, they can't get a haircut when they choose and sometimes it's not even convenient to use a bathroom when needed.  They are literally paid pennies when they work, under 50 cents for a mile, and yet they are the ones being blamed for the lack of desire to enter the industry.  I think maybe the blame is lack of intelligence at the top of the trucking companies; of course, I didn't have a panel to meet and discuss this so I could be wrong.

bigjim5656
bigjim5656

After 12 years I left the trucking industry 5 years ago for many reasons. HOS, DOT, Overweight loads with no CATS scales for hours of driving, no parking at night in many truck stops. Driving around the clock, little home time, on your day off dispatch calls and says your the only one I have in the area, some companies have no passenger policies, paying lumpers, some people (shippers &  rec.) with bad attitude or they load you last no matter what your appointment time is, some companies remove brake lines and put locks on truck, etc, etc, etc......

gdamifino
gdamifino

I think your all right, my opinion is younger people today have poor work ethics to start with. I too would like to be paid what I believe I'm worth. The day of drivers willing to stay out for weeks at a time is gone I'm afraid. As an "older driver" the regulations and loss of independence has driven me out. I don't care to be required to live and work under the micro-scope. I don't want to be monitored as I work.

Gordon A
Gordon A

Companies are their own worst enemy in many ways. At one time many of the large carriers had a dress code. They had higher standards potential drivers had to meet. One by one carriers dropped the dress code in favor of a warm butt in the seat. The high standards were lowered so less than qualified persons could work for less than standard wages.  That relates to higher profits and a better bottom line. Carriers need to improve the quality of the school grads they have contracts with. Every student needs a lot of time in driving school to learn about the real world of trucking.  They don’t know why quality drivers are leaving the industry? Ask them why.  It could be the truth does not fit their perception of why a driver turnover is high. Professional drivers don’t need an EOBR. Professional drivers don’t need the new HOS. Professional drivers don’t need the stupid 30 minute break.  Let the professional drivers do the job that needs to be done and the profit margins will be higher, The safety factor will be better. The job will be done safely.. A thank you once in a while is enough. Just pay and treat them  like professionals and the industry will be better off for it.

KurtKeilhofer
KurtKeilhofer

How can the industry say that they want to improve drivers' image when companies do not provide heat or airconditioning to the living/sleeping quarters of their drivers? They certainly would not do that for their computer systems!

Many also continue to allow their drivers' time to be worthless at shippers and receivers, something the lowliest factory worker would never be subject to.

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