Successfully onboard: how data, technology helps retain new drivers

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Updated Jul 12, 2021

Truck driver turnoverResearch shows that nearly one-third of new driver hires will quit in 90 days and half within the first six months of starting a new job. The adjustment can be a bumpy ride, but a number of strategies and technologies are being used to improve retention rates.

The data shows that drivers who are starting a new career in trucking have the highest turnover. After gaining some experience, many will move on to better job opportunities or leave the industry altogether.

Lisa Pate, chief administration officer of U.S. Xpress, says the Chattanooga-based truckload carrier has decided to add an extra day to its orientation program to prep student drivers for the unique challenges of their new lifestyle.

“We are not making any assumptions about what they know and don’t know,” she says.

J.J. Keller and Associates has an online training course for new drivers titled “CMV Driver Basics for entry-level drivers.” The product helps drivers understand the importance of operating safely, being a qualified driver, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the company says.

Regardless of experience, research shows the leading cause of early driver turnover is mismatched job expectations. For example, drivers may think that earnings, home time, equipment, routes or other early job experiences are not as advertised.

Trucking's Future Now - Driver in Autonomous TruckUnmet expectations cause drivers to “begin a belief system that the company doesn’t care about them,” says Jay Green, business development consultant for Strategic Programs.

Strategic Programs gathers anonymous feedback from drivers on behalf of its motor carrier clients. The candid assessments it collects from its call center identify areas where fleets can improve the onboarding process, he says.

Perhaps no expectation is more easily broken than pay. Stay Metrics recently made a change to its onboarding surveys to detect mismatched driver expectations for pay. The company offers the surveys to fleet clients separately or as part of its online driver rewards, engagement and analytics platform.

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As a neutral third party, Stay Metrics conducts onboarding surveys on behalf of motor carriers through a phone interview with drivers at the 7th and 45th day of employment.

The 7-day survey now asks drivers their pay expectations. Motor carriers receive an immediate e-mail alert if the response is not within the pay range that was communicated in the recruiting and orientation process. Carriers can then connect with the driver and discuss possible disconnects, says Tim Hindes, chief executive officer.

The surveys have a final question that asks drivers if they would like to be contacted by their company to address any questions or concerns. An immediate alert is sent to the client if drivers answer “yes.” To date, about 15 percent of the time drivers are asking to be contacted, he says.

Orientation training

Orientation meetings are what drivers dislike the most about changing jobs, according to a survey of drivers by Conversion Interactive Agency, a driver recruitment advertising firm. Its research shows drivers will decide within the first 72 hours of orientation if, and why, they will ever leave their new employer.

4Refuel uses an online driver training program from CarriersEdge4Refuel uses an online driver training program from CarriersEdge

As proof that the onboarding experience makes a difference in retention, consider the following. As part of the Best Fleets to Drive For contest, produced by CarriersEdge in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association, fleets were asked via a survey to describe their driver onboarding process.

The Top 20 Best Fleets received scores from judges that were 18 percent higher than the overall average. The Top 20 fleets also had a 15 percent better retention of drivers than the rest of the field.

Online training is one the strategies fleets are using to improve the onboarding experience for drivers.

Conversion has created a collection of 52 online training modules for driver orientation and onboarding. Most of the modules cover the safety and compliance topics that fleets require drivers to complete before taking their first load.

Its customers can deliver the training to drivers through a web-based learning management system from EBE Technologies as part of its platform called the E-Learning Academy. All of the modules are short videos with training objectives listed at the beginning and test questions at the end. Drivers cannot fast-forward the videos when watching.

Fleets use the platform to assign modules to drivers, monitor their progress, and stay in contact during the training process. Additionally, they can upload and distribute documents to drivers such as HR forms to complete prior to arriving at their offices for orientation meetings.

Pricing for the E-Learning Academy is a monthly subscription, and the price is fluid based on the number of drivers that complete the orientation training program each month. Fleets have the option to upload their own content and can work with Conversion to create custom modules.

“Ultimately we are trying to improve the driver experience. That’s what it’s all about today,” says Kelley Walkup, president and chief executive.

Milan Supply Chain Solutions has improved its orientation experience by reducing time spent in meetings that used to took 2.5 days. Drivers can now complete training online before they arrive to spend one day at the office for orientation.

Milan uses Infinit-i online learning management system from Infinit-i Workforce Solutions. All of the orientation presentations are now recorded on video.

“Now we can hire a driver and he can continue to work for another company at the same time he is completing our orientation,” says Pat Landreth, manager of loss prevention. “And consequently we have less downtime and less expense.”

Online training has helped fuel delivery provider 4Refuel, based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, develop an effective driver orientation program, says Ross Jessop, national fleet maintenance and safety manager.

The company uses the CarriersEdge online training platform to assign courses to drivers on hazardous materials safety and other topics the week prior to orientation that starts on Mondays. Drivers complete the courses over the weekend, at home, in about six hours.

With the time savings, 4Refuel’s orientation program takes two days instead of three. The company also knows more about its drivers — who the company calls “certified refueling professionals”- before they arrive. This helps to focus on areas where extra training is needed, he says.

4Refuel has an annual turnover rate of between seven and 10 percent, he says, and operates 170 trucks in Canada and the United States.