Driver Recruitment, Retention Continue to Challenge Industry

June 1, 1999
DRIVER RECRUITMENT and retention costs are growing for tank truck companies - and the end doesn't seem to be in sight, said Kenneth Matlock, executive

DRIVER RECRUITMENT and retention costs are growing for tank truck companies - and the end doesn't seem to be in sight, said Kenneth Matlock, executive director of administrative services for Boncosky Services of Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

"We can find drivers, but the cost is absolutely enormous," he said at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Council seminar held in St Petersburg, Florida, April 13-15. "When we hire new drivers, we don't always know about their quality. It is expensive to train new drivers. They also can incur additional costs."

He said new drivers may cause more equipment damage than veteran drivers, which can result in business opportunity lost when vehicles have to be taken off the road for repairs. Additionally, customer service may suffer. Recruiting drivers is expensive. And when drivers quit their jobs, that productivity is lost. "And that's all bottom-line money," he said.

To help solve the problem, he recommended that companies collect and measure driver data. "Know when they leave," he said. "Know why they leave."

Data can be gathered in various ways. He suggested that the measurements be assessed by terminal.

Carriers can determine how many drivers remain with the company for what period of time. "To make an informed decision, you have to know this," Matlock said.

"Mainly, I want to know about the people who left our organization voluntarily," he added. "I think that says we didn't live up to their standards, and we need to know why. We have to accept the responsibility for people leaving."

Carriers can determine how long drivers remain with the company. The reasons for a driver leaving the company after a short period, less than a year, is not as important as for one who has been employed a year or more.

Matlock pointed out that drivers tend to submit resignations more often in May and August. Knowing the tendency gives companies an opportunity to plan ahead for the situation.

Driver's Importance

Although managers say they understand the driver's importance to the company, they may not carry through in their management practices.

He said managers should be clear about what is expected from the driver and what the driver can expect from the company. A company should be honest and ethical. Managers should be familiar with the driver's job, be consistent in discipline, present a reasonable work expectation, see that dispatching is legal and safe, and offer opportunities for advancement.

In return, the driver should be expected to work safely, obey laws, and meet service requirements. Matlock recommended that a "mutual expectation agreement" be signed by three people: the fleet manager, terminal manager, and driver.

Managers should focus on driver needs, such as workload, time at home, rest, and pay.

"If you make drivers choose between being at home or on the road, you will lose every time," he said. "They are like most of us. They want a home, their bills paid, college for their kids, and a new truck. They don't want gadgets, rockets, and gypsy lifestyles.

"We are in the business to make some money by hauling chemicals. To do that, we must have trucks, customers, and drivers. The most important thing is the drivers. We can control costs when we learn how to retain drivers. Retention is bottom-line profit."

He estimated the cost of replacing a driver at $12,000. Losing 10 drivers per year equals $120,000. "You've got to haul a lot of freight to make up for that," Matlock said.

Hiring Procedures Taking care in hiring procedures impacts the bottom line in other ways, said Bob Luhrs, manager, operational staffing for Tankstar USA Inc, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Competition between companies for qualified drivers continues to escalate. Luhrs said about 400,000 drivers will be needed over the next 10 years by trucking companies in the United States. The situation calls for intensive recruitment - and that means selling the company to prospective drivers.

"This is called needs matching," he said. "It's a sales process."

Luhrs recommended that companies establish a positive relationship with drivers and meet their needs so that they can meet the company's needs. "We must treat them with dignity and respect," he said. "When we don't do that, we have a problem. This is where the revolving door comes in. If drivers are happy, they are also going out there and telling others what a great company this is to work for." Traditionally, a majority of drivers have been selected from the white male employment ranks. From now on, recruiters must expand searches to include minorities, women, and third-world country immigrants.

Luhrs suggested that companies become involved with driver schools by establishing grants, donating equipment, and/or advising. "They are very limited in funds," he said.

Human Resources John Krovic, Kenan Transport Company vice-president for human resources and safety, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, said employee retention improves when human resources and safety departments interact as a team.

"Realize no company is perfect; therefore, no safety or human relations person is perfect," Krovic said. "Understand and define roles, responsibilities, and expectations of human resources and safety."

Because some companies are just now establishing departments with human resources specialists, long-time managers may feel threatened, he said. As a result, cooperation may be difficult if the veterans react negatively.

This situation can be avoided if everyone understands the goals of the company. "Think of everyone as if they are a customer," he said. "Invite people to come on in and see what you are doing. Don't just stay over there in your part of the world."

Companies may add a human resources specialist upon the advice of an attorney, because the company is growing, or because of continued driver issues. Once established, the human resources and safety duties can be blended. Krovic said human resources managers should learn about driver duties, perhaps through rides with drivers.

"You have to be able to talk the business language," he said.

Matlock pointed out that a company's loss exposure is higher in the human resources area. He gave as an example litigation that can result from wrongful discharge.

"HR can correct where we are with driver turnover. We're here to guide and support the operations department, but the operations department has to be held accountable," Matlock said.

Another way of retaining drivers is to implement an employee wellness program, said James Scapellato of The Scapellato Group, Charleston, South Carolina. He is recently retired from the Department of Transportation.

"The transportation industry is losing billions of dollars because of health-related issues," he said. "We wait for the event (a health crisis involving an employee) to happen - we don't focus on it before."

Fitness Programs He noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering requirements for companies to have a health fitness program for employees.

He pointed out that fatigue and stress can be addressed through exercise, rest, and diet. Although drivers may be off duty, they may not be resting. Drivers who are suffering from fatigue may experience micro-sleep episodes while at the wheel.

He listed two common links to fatigue: drivers driving in the early hours of the morning and after they have eaten lunch. Stress, coupled with fatigue, can interfere with drivers' physical and mental responses.

Tests on drivers who drink caffeine to overcome fatigue have shown they can suffer from stimulated stress, aggressiveness, and elevated blood pressure - all dangerous reactions for driving.

Matlock noted that the workforce shortages and employee costs are related to aging drivers who may have health problems. "Health insurance premiums and injury rates escalate," he said.

At the same time, he pointed out the difficulties that the drivers encounter. "They have to comply with the regulations. They have to adapt to traffic conditions. They don't eat right, They don't sleep right. This is an issue that is very important to us."

To overcome health-related problems, Scapellato suggested that companies develop a health incentive program, perhaps purchasing exercise equipment or arranging for employees to use an exercise facility. A wellness program should include information about diet and other good health practices.