A VARIETY of factors play a role in attracting and retaining top quality truck drivers. There is no single solution to this complex issue.
At Service Transport Company in Houston, Texas, the management team implemented a multi-faceted plan to make the tank truck carrier more attractive in an increasingly competitive driver market. Initial indications are that the company is on the right track with the program, which includes rollout of the largest compensation increase in the company’s history for its company drivers and owner-operators and an aggressive fleet replacement campaign.
“These are steps we felt we needed to take to improve driver retention and boost recruiting,” says Kevin Roycraft, Service Transport president. “We need more drivers to keep up with customer demand in a very strong chemical market. We could add a hundred drivers right now, and we have the loads to keep them busy. We could add as many owner-operators as come through the door.
“We are looking at every practical way to attract more drivers. The biggest question right now is ‘how do you get millenials to drive trucks?’”
Service Transport currently employs 210 company drivers and 40 owner-operators. The fleet includes more than 200 tractors and about 600 tank trailers.
In addition to Houston, the fleet is dispersed among terminals in Corpus Christi, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; St Gabriel and St Rose, Louisiana; and Saraland, Alabama. Operations are conducted throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Chemical hauling is a primary focus, generating more than $60 million in annual revenue. The carrier uses statistical process control to help ensure that its customers receive the best possible service. The process covers safety and on-time deliveries. Participation in quality action teams in-house and special outside seminars with most of the top 10 to 15 accounts is part of a continuous improvement program that benefits Service Transport and customers alike.
Service Transport is a Responsible Care Partner. This association with the American Chemistry Council represents a solid commitment to health, safety, and environmental issues surrounding the chemical industry.
The focus on driver recruiting and retention is very much a part of the carrier’s commitment to provide outstanding customer service. “It is absolutely critical that we take the necessary steps to provide the transport capacity our customers need,” says Mike Leggio, Service Transport vice-president.
With the new compensation package, the busiest company drivers will be making upwards of $80,000 a year. The compensation increase comes in a line-haul pay raise and a boost in safety bonuses. The carrier also boosted paid vacation time to up to five weeks for the longest-tenured drivers.
“We launched the new compensation package at the end of June, and the initial indications are that it is a solid winner,” Roycraft says. “Our driver turnover has fallen to a minimal level, primarily due to retirements and such. We believe we are seeing improvement in recruiting efforts.
“However, we are still have a driver shortage at Service Transport. We’re looking for 100 more drivers over the next 12 months.”
To help with the recruiting effort, Service Transport launched a tuition reimbursement program in May for truck driving school graduates and has reached out to schools across the Gulf Coast region.
After six to eight weeks in the school, these new truck drivers spend another six to eight weeks with Service Transport driver trainers.
“We’ve hired 20 school graduates since July,” Roycraft says. “These are people who are totally new to trucking, and they have ranged in age from 24 to 50 years old. We’ve seen police officers, military veterans, school teachers, and even a minister. Women are part of the mix.
Attracting and keeping outstanding drivers includes providing trucks they want to drive, with younger drivers being a particular target. That has been a key factor in the current truck replacement strategy at Service Transport.
More than 100 tractors were ordered with deliveries scheduled through Q1 2019. Almost all of these trucks were for replacement. Orders for 2019 will include trucks for business expansion.
The new 2019-model-year tractors come with driver comfort features including an ergonomic seat and a 70-inch walk-in sleeper configured for a refrigerator and a television. They also sport a new paint scheme. Gone is the light blue base color. The new tractors are white with red and dark blue stripes.
Truck purchases this year included Freightliner Cascadias, Mack Anthems, and International LTs. Internationals have the Cummins X15 engine rated at 430 horsepower, Anthems were ordered with a 430-hp Mack MP8, and the Cascadias come with a 450-hp Detroit DD13 engine. All of the tractors are spec’d with automated transmissions.
“These trucks are so much easier to drive,” Leggio says. “That is a recruiting positive, as is the technology we are putting into these vehicles. The younger drivers we are targeting are very comfortable with the technology.”
Specs include PeopleNet’s on-board tablet computer for electronic driver logs and the Bendix Wingman Fusion package with adaptive cruise control, active brake assist, and collision avoidance. Forward-facing on-board video cameras are supplied by iDrive.
Bendix air-disc brakes are now standard for the fleet. Fifthwheels are from Holland and Jost. Tires are supplied by Bridgestone and Yokohama.
Product handling equipment includes Paragon’s compact HydraChem hydraulically powered pump and compressor module. Trucks used to transport dry bulk loads also have Paragon blowers.
Help in managing the tractor fleet comes from Navistar’s OnCommand Connection system. “We use it as part of our preventive maintenance effort,” he says. “I can see my entire fleet status on my cell phone. It helps in diagnosing equipment problems, and we can share data with our local truck dealers.”
On the trailer side, Polar has been the primary supplier of new 7,000-gallon DOT407 stainless steel chemical tanks. Hardware includes Betts valves, Girard pressure- and vacuum-relief vents, and Hendrickson Intraax air suspension/axle systems. J&L Tank was the primary supplier of the 1,636-cu-ft pneumatic bulkers that are used to transport plastic pellets.
New equipment is being put to work as fast as it arrives. In Service Transport’s operation, 70% of the activity is in long-haul dedicated service, with drivers home at least weekly. The carrier also has regional and local operations.
Leggio says these are the sorts of operations that should appeal to the younger truck drivers. “We have a lot of out-and-back work,” he says. “Our drivers get home every week. We don’t have system drivers who are out weeks at a time.”
Roycraft adds: “When we look at everything we’ve done over the past year, we believe we are on the right track. We’re seeing a recommitment to the company by all of our employees, and there is a strong sense of optimism.”