July 24, 2018

Every year for nearly a decade, truck drivers and owner-operators from across the U.S. and Canada call attention to the top fleets in the industry. Through nominations and evaluations, CarriersEdge and Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) identify and honor the carriers providing the best workplaces for their drivers. 

Omnitracs is proud to work with the best fleets in the business. As part of a series of posts, we’re shining a spotlight on several Omnitracs customers that were recognized as one of the Top 20 Best Fleets to Drive For and exploring what makes them great.

Seven or eight years ago, TLD Logistics Services made getting its drivers home every weekend a goal. But now that its drivers actually do make it home for the weekend 98 percent of the time, company president Jim Peters isn’t satisfied.

“Frankly, that’s not enough anymore,” he says. “Drivers are looking to try to get home more often during the course of the week. That’s really what we’re trying to build.”

That attitude helps explain, in part, why TLD, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based, mid-size trucking firm operating about 425 tractors, is a three-time honoree as one of the 20 Best Fleets to Drive for as selected by the Truckload Carriers Association.

Older drivers with two or three decades of experience on the road, plenty of whom work for TLD, may be used to being away from home for longer periods because that’s the way the industry long has operated. But in the face of the industry’s persistent and growing shortage of drivers, the accelerating retirement rates of veteran drivers, and the industry’s traditionally high rates of driver turnover, TLD is making a very conscious effort to attract and retain younger drivers. And, as a group, they’re exhibiting much greater desire to be home frequently; if not nightly then two or three nights a week in addition to being home on the weekends.

“Obviously, the people that have been in this industry for 20 to 30 years, quite frankly, their footprint of how they live their lives, I think, is already established and they’re not really as concerned about some of the things,” Peters says. “The younger drivers, they’re looking at it and thinking, ‘I like the fact that I can make a pretty good income in this industry, but I also want to combine that situation with the ability to raise my family and be able to potentially see my kids play Little League or some type of school activity.’ ”

A focus on training and retaining drivers

That desire to recruit more and younger drivers who, hopefully, will stay in the industry and with TLD for a career also is behind the carrier’s operation of three truck driving schools. The company puts new, unlicensed drivers through a full five-week training program that prepares them to earn their CDL. But it doesn’t leave them there. The company then assigns them to ride with driver trainers for six weeks. Instead of riding with just one trainer roughly every two weeks, the recent grads switch trainers. The idea is that rotating through three different trainers makes it more likely that each new driver gets time with a veteran driver with whom they can make a great learning connection.

Even once a newly licensed and trained TLD driver gets assigned a truck and a route of his or her own, the training and coaching continues. For their first 90 days, new drivers work directly with a dispatcher who used to be a driver. That arrangement — which includes giving that dispatcher fewer drivers to monitor — enables that dispatcher to coach newbies through a host of first-time situations and advise them about the subtle but important ways to cope with challenges, ranging from frustrating traffic jams and dealing with difficult clients to adapting to the loneliness that every driver can feel.

“We just started doing that back in about March,” Peters explains, “because we had actually graduated somewhere in the range of 175 people from our driver training schools but then we looked at the count of how many of those we’d retained, and we were at only about 50 percent.”

In discussing with his management team how to retain more of those newly trained drivers they hit upon the idea of using a former driver-turned-dispatcher on their team to ease their transition into the job.

Building a culture of safety

TLD was formed after the 2008 purchase of family-owned L&D Transportation Services by Toyota Tsusho America, Inc. Toyota Tsusho is the trading arm of Japan’s Toyota Group, parent of Toyota Motors. T&D had been engaged in hauling parts and materials around the eastern U.S. for Toyota in addition to providing third-party hauling services for other clients.

Since its acquisition by Toyota, TLD has grown not only in size (up from just 125 tractors in 2008) but also in the range of services offered. It still hauls for its parent company, Toyota Tsusho North America, and has expanded its third-party carriage work. But TLD also now offers third-party logistics managements services, intermodal drayage, contract yard management services and its driver training schools. Plus, it offers dedicated trucking services to companies other than Toyota.

Peters also emphasizes that another reason why TLD is a company drivers want to drive for is its safety record. Two years ago, TLD had an admirable record of just 0.6 accidents per million miles driven. But that performance wasn’t good enough, Peters said. Now the rate is down to 0.4 accidents per million miles traveled. Three years ago, the company had 31 reportable accidents. Two years later they cut that to just 19, and then, last year, to only 14.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” Peters says. “I think that’s a tangible result that we’re able to point to as a result of our driver-retention efforts and, I think, of building the type of culture that everybody is participating in.”