Are drivers to blame?

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David Goodson is a management consultant specializing in the transportation industry. E-mail

Obviously, no one wants to lose a newly hired driver or leased operator. At a minimum, it costs most carriers $1,000 for recruiting, travel and orientation. Add the lost profit of having a tractor sit for two to three weeks until a replacement driver is found and the cost of turnover can approach $2,000 to $3,000. Some studies place that figure even higher.

It’s a popular belief that carriers can fix turnover by raising hiring standards. Perhaps you would only hire drivers who have a history of longevity at their previous employers. This is good advice – if you have a line of drivers and operators at your door looking for work. If not, you must make the most of the drivers available to you.

Also, blaming the quality of the driver or operator for turnover often is an easy excuse to do nothing. Managers tell themselves that it’s pointless to combat turnover because new drivers are just a bunch of job jumpers.

If driver quality gets the blame for turnover in your company, consider rating it. To measure driver quality, establish your own criteria for the ideal driver in terms of maximizing retention. I once hired a college student to examine application files and look for a relationship between longevity and known facts about the drivers at a company I ran. Based on this research, I developed an evaluation that uses a five-point scale, with one point for each of the following:

  • More than 12 months at last job
  • No reported accidents or moving violations in last 3 years
  • More than 5 years experience over the road
  • Residence located within 50 miles of a terminal
  • Management assessment

The management assessment criterion was a point I awarded – or not – to drivers after I met them. I met every new driver and owner-operator – or at least had another key manager do so. I awarded the management assessment point if I believed the driver to be professional in appearance and conduct.

Although not every carrier would adopt the criteria I outlined for my company, there is no question that a driver rating a five on my criteria would be someone you would hate to lose. Similarly, a driver with no points is clearly a questionable hire.

In establishing this system, we considered some criteria that we ultimately felt were inappropriate. In our data, drivers that were older, did not have young children and had long marriages did best. To maximize retention, we could have discriminated in favor of those traits. This being the age of trial lawyers, however, we didn’t want to go there.

With a simple scale you can break turnover statistics down by a driver rating of 0,1,2,3,4 and 5. What you expect to see are the drivers with zero or one ratings turning over the fastest and those with four and fives doing so rarely. Those with two or three, the majority of what most carriers hire, should be somewhere in the middle.

If this isn’t the case, and turnover is about the same regardless of driver ratings, then your high turnover is not being caused by driver quality. Most fleets with high turnover probably will find that the quality of the hire makes some difference in turnover but that even highly rated hires are turning over at an alarming rate. Whatever is causing the poor drivers to leave is also affecting the good drivers. Good drivers are just reluctant to leave too quickly or want to have the next job lined up before they quit.

Rating new drivers and getting to know them personally will help you separate fact from fiction when analyzing why a promising new hire left after a couple of months. It will help move your organization from blaming driver quality to looking at internal problems as the possible cause.