Brett Mowers's picture

Sep 19, 2016


Brett Mowers

Transportation Manager, River Valley Foods

As the driver shortage continues to grow, driver retention is going to only become more critical for fleets of every size. Better pay, better equipment and a better schedule can have a positive effect on keeping drivers happy, but how those three things are accomplished can vary widely by carrier. We wanted to know specifically how companies were combatting the shortage, so we asked some of them to share what’s working for them.

Our first strategies come from Brett Mowers, transportation manager at River Valley Foods, a full-service grocery distributor serving the northeast.

How is your company trying to combat the driver shortage?

The driver shortage is real. When we are hiring for drivers we are finding fewer and fewer qualified candidates who meet our hiring criteria (no accidents, no DWI’s, clean license). It makes the decision riskier for a fleet manager to decide when to roll the dice on someone who could be a good employee but has some black marks in past driving jobs.

To combat this, we have started focusing more on retaining the drivers we have by leveraging existing technology, creating a driver friendly culture, and using the drivers as recruiters.

Existing Technology:  We have started outfitting all of our trailers with lift gates, purchased power pallet jacks, and keeping our delivery hand carts in top shape. By investing in equipment the drivers use each day, it keeps their bodies in good shape and makes their lives easier. We assign them smart phones for using our dispatching software as well as making company calls. Don’t just hand a driver a phone, though; sit down and show a driver how use it. That 10 minutes can go a long way in making everyone’s life easier.  

Creating a Driver Friendly Culture:  We put a big focus on including drivers in company events and general office life. If the office has a cookout or pizza party, we try to do something similar for the drivers and warehouse workers so they are included. Our driver meetings are held at a restaurant where drivers can get a warm breakfast. Our drivers are talked about in our company newsletter so people around the organization can get to know them. It is easy to treat a driver as an “in and out” employee who doesn’t have interaction with your office or management, but this is a big mistake.

Drivers as Recruiters:  Drivers can be your best recruiters. Offer referral bonuses for drivers who bring good drivers to your company. Make your company a place the drivers are proud to be employed and word will spread around the industry/region you are in.

Which strategies are working? Which aren’t?

In addition to the three strategies above, we also make a big effort to balance out the home life of a driver. While our drivers are local with some overnights, we try to make sure we give them a consistent schedule. Drivers are creatures of habit, and our industry is one of constant change. If you can build some level of consistency in your weekly workload, it will keep drivers motivated to continue working for you.

We also find that spending extra time training new drivers has helped keep our retention rate very high. Hiring a driver and then throwing them behind the wheel after a few days or a week of training is a recipe for disaster.  Develop strong training programs, and promote drivers who are willing to train others and reward them for it. A $100 prepaid gift card is a small gesture that can be given to your driver trainers that shows you appreciate their efforts in getting a new employee up to speed.  

As much as people may disagree, just increasing the driver’s pay is not always the answer to getting drivers you want or need. It may fill a temporary empty seat, but the cost of hiring, training, and then losing a “job jumping” driver is too great. Companies who fail to see this will continue in this cycle of hiring and losing drivers as companies continue to ramp up pay scales to compete for these “job jumpers.” Keep a driver in the seat with real effort and you can avoid losing them a bigger sign-on bonus.

However, I do believe that drivers should have their pay scale reviewed regularly to make sure it is fair and that they are paid for the type of work they do. It is easy to forget when your drivers were last given a raise (if your company doesn’t do scheduled raises). You can lose good people by not keeping an eye on this. Drivers are keenly aware of how a company is doing. More freight and more runs usually equal more money. They want their fair share, too.

We’ve seen articles that mention shifting to more regional routes for the long-haul fleets in an effort to keep drivers closer to home. Is this a good idea? Bad idea? Sustainable?

I think there will always be a need for longer haul drivers. For this idea to work, the industry as a whole will have to buy into it. I could see a network of shorter haulers moving freight regionally, but it will slow down the process of moving goods. Consumers would have to adjust accordingly. It is certainly an idea worth exploring. It is much easier to sell a driver on the idea of being home more often.

There’s a lot of talk about increased pay, but overall, pay hasn’t really gone up much since the 1990s. Is that just talk from carriers, or is increased pay just something that’s not sustainable in an industry with narrower margins that most? How do things like the ELD mandate which also come with a mandated spend effect efforts to increase pay?

Fortunately for the trucking industry, the world needs truck drivers. Regulations like the ELD mandates will impact a company’s ability to spend in other areas, but savvy companies will find a way to reduce spending in other areas to accommodate the added cost of ELD equipment.

For example, our company pays for smart phones for all drivers. When we implement an ELD system, we will look to remove those devices, or subsidize drivers who use their own phones, to make room for the new ELD system. Carriers may have to look at renegotiating with 3PL’s to make more room for paying drivers or passing on costs to their customers.

What role can/should technology play in recruiting and retaining drivers?

The closer we can make tractors and straight trucks mirror modern cars with creature comforts and technology the more we will make coming to work and being in the truck appealing for today’s driver, especially younger ones. Apps that drivers use need to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to operate, and absolutely should have driver feedback when they are developed.

Companies involved in technology solutions in the trucking world should be working with other industry staples like truck stops, fuel stops, highway information systems, and others to bring all of that information together for a driver. The less a driver has to worry about when on the road, the happier they will be.

Scarily enough, technology could also be used in the future for self-driving vehicles which would have a huge impact on the driver shortage. I won’t speculate on this as I’m not on a first name basis with Elon Musk yet

Are there ways that the industry could leverage technology to recruit newer, younger drivers to a career in trucking?

I think the job title “truck driver” has a lot of old, tired stereotypes that prevent young people and women from getting into the field. Realizing that modern trucks are centers of the best technology and that it is a career that offers a lot of freedom and great earning ability is something the industry should be prouder of and work harder to get that message out. Truck driving should be something that high schools offer as technical training (at least from a “virtual” driving standpoint) and educate people about what the career has to offer.

The trucking industry and its partners should be getting word out in the media (if possible) on how safe trucking is and how much safer the road has gotten. This could be used in advertising on places like Twitter or Facebook. You never hear about trucking companies in a positive light, only when there is an accident. Let’s start changing that by pushing the news out to media younger people use.

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