CCJ Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges. If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact CCJ Chief Editor Jason Cannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-633-5953.
Behind every good diversity and inclusion program is a good bot — or at least that’s some of the story at U.S. Xpress, which is enjoying a rise in its Spanish speaking driver population thanks in part to an algorithm dedicated to reaching applicants whose primary language is not English.
But U.S. Xpress is not stopping there. The 37-year-old conglomerate has also been stepping up recruiting and retention efforts among women and other population groups that have historically steered clear of the trucking industry.
The human resources shift goes back to diversity goals laid out by U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller this past summer who wrote in an op-ed: "Today’s workers are not focused exclusively on the job with the highest pay. Yes, they’re searching for opportunities that offer professional challenges, but they’re also seeking out employers that provide opportunities to work alongside people who share their philosophies, and in a place where they can feel welcomed for who they are without fear of hate or discrimination."
So where does that search for a warm welcome begin? For millions of job seekers, it’s the internet. And for U.S. Xpress, they’ve made it clear on their homepage that they’re looking for people to fill positions in trucks, the office and the shop.
Eager to try out their multi-lingual bot with my rusty (okay, admittedly pathetic) Spanish, I clicked on their top job window titled, Driving Careers. After being taken to their driver recruiting page, a chat bot featuring the smiling face of a woman named Amanda popped up in the lower right-hand corner of the page.
While my typed ‘Hola’ greeting didn’t get me too far, my poorly written statement, “Necessito conducir camion por favor” (I need to drive truck please) did get some impressive results.
As you’ll note in the screenshot below, three job opportunities written in Spanish and located in my area popped up. I clicked one in Bonifay, Florida, which offers a $12,000 bonus in the first year (paid in 12 monthly payments) in addition to annual take home up to $70,000 or more. That’ll get your attention no matter the language.
Chatting it upAs a valuable part of the company’s English as a second language program (ESL), the chat bot has so far racked up more than 500,000 interactions and 20,000-plus inquiries since the program kicked off late last summer.
“Recruiters are getting flooded with phone calls,” said Sharia Sandoval, operations specialist at U.S. Xpress who helps lead ESL efforts.
A unique algorithm behind the bot helps roll out the welcome mat to Spanish speakers based on their location.
“We co-developed a first-of-its kind algorithm that utilizes location and census data to present an array of avatars across the country,” said Jacob Kramer, U.S. Xpress vice president of recruiting. “We felt that being represented by multiple backgrounds would better align with our values. The artificial intelligence communicates in 100-plus languages and auto responds to whichever the language the candidate uses.”
Kramer said chat bot feedback from users has added up to a 99.5% approval rate.
In addition to a high-tech approach, U.S. Xpress has also hired more Spanish-speaking employees in the office to help drivers through the application process, orientation, road trips and more.
“We just hired a program director that's going to make sure that we are addressing every concern from that driver, hopefully, until they retire,” said Amanda Thompson, chief people officer at U.S. Xpress, and a key player behind the development of the company’s diversity and inclusion program.
“We really want to make sure that we are setting that community up that they can feel a part of and [then] want to stay with us for a long period of time,” Thompson continued.
Part of that effort to help foster a greater sense of community includes staying in touch with Spanish-speaking drivers while they’re on the road. Office support in the ESL program can speak on a driver's behalf with loading dock personnel and others. Some drivers lean on Google Translate for help. They can also use a company app to communicate via text message in Spanish with ESL personnel.
U.S. Xpress has also kicked off a mentor program where bilingual drivers help new recruits learn the ropes. Jose Medinilla, a 16-year veteran with U.S. Xpress who drives over-the-road for their subsidiary Variant, enjoys helping fellow Latinos and “anyone else who needs my help” he said.
“I don't know how to explain myself, the way that I feel so happy, so happy that I can communicate with them and try to help them,” said Medinilla, a million-mile driver. “I try to help them because I had a hard time and I want them to have it a little bit smoother than me.”
Sandoval said Hispanics are pleased with their new approach.
“The look on our driver's faces when we walk over and we introduce ourselves when they're in orientation and we speak in Spanish and they know that they have that Spanish support, it makes a world of a difference,” she said.
“In some of our phone calls, you can hear it in their voice that they're so grateful that here's someone that 100% understands what they're trying to tell you like small issues dealing with trailers, 'I don't have this trailer. I'm looking for this number.' Small things that we're able to help and expedite,” Sandoval continued. “And it's been incredibly rewarding to be completely honest with you. It's not just, ‘Here's your pickup number and here's your next load.’ It's ‘I understand you. I understand where you're coming from.’”
Embracing 'diversity of thought'As with other companies, racial and social unrest in 2020 brought about a change of perspective at U.S. Xpress.
“We were right in the middle of really transitioning our overall corporate strategy and focusing on digital transformation and just growing our company at a massive scale over the next five years,” Thompson said.
“Our strategy team got together and we all knew that we wanted to really focus on inclusion and diversity and we wanted to put a strategy together so that we could get the most creative and innovative people and get diversity of thought so that we could make better choices as a company and really start to focus on scaling our company,” Thompson continued.
In August of 2020, to help better meet the needs of its diverse workforce, U.S. Xpress created its Inclusion & Diversity Council. Made up of 15 team members from its subsidiaries and with various backgrounds (LGBTQ+, ethnic, female, religious, etc.), the council began meeting monthly to discuss important issues, collaborate with their CEO and Chief People Officer to discuss issues and set goals.
From those meetings came the formation of employee resource groups (ERGs) last year for women, veterans and multicultural workers. Each group was tasked with electing leaders and assigned an executive sponsor from the C-suite. These groups also meet monthly to discuss important issues, plan socials/gatherings, host webinars and participate in matters important to each group.
Throughout 2021, U.S. Xpress ran video spotlights of its diverse workforce including gay, trans, Latino, Arab, Black, female and others. Videos were promoted internally and across social media channels.
In September 2021, U.S. Xpress hired attorney Wade Hinton as its first Chief Inclusion Partner. Hinton, a former city attorney in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with roots in civil rights work, is currently working on an assessment to better guide inclusion and diversity efforts.
“We've had a chance to interview through focus groups and other one-on-one discussions with leaders to better understand where they believe the company is at this time and where they'd like to see it go in the future,” Hinton said.
“We've also had a chance to look at some of their qualitative data around their surveys that they conducted. As part of last year's engagement survey, they included questions that could help them measure inclusion and how it shows up in this space,” Hinton continued. “And so we're taking all of that information and making recommendations on where we believe they should place priorities or resources to help advance the company in a real way.”
Hinton said he likes what he’s seen so far.
“I had a chance to do focus groups and other opportunities for engagement and just listen to employees and team members talk about their experience and how they show up and be their true selves here versus at other previous employers,” Hinton said. “Those [experiences] don't necessarily show up in any announcement, but those are the moments that you know you're doing the right thing when employees feel that sense of connection and belonging.”