Steps to Stem the Driver Shortage

Pyle students learn backing skills before taking to the street.
Schneider provides training at its Academies.

Offering less than truckload (LTL) and truckload operations as well as a rich menu of other services, A. Duie Pyle (www.pyleco.com) has been avid in seeking drivers, addressing different market segments and labor markets in trying to attract prospects. “Recently we’ve implemented an applicant tracking system to establish a pool of candidates and better manage the hiring process,” says Mark Johnson, the company’s Director of Human Resources. In seeking recruits, Pyle uses the Internet, web sites, selected newspapers and trade publications to reach out to potential drivers. The carrier is active at truck shows, with state labor agencies and employee referrals as well.

Johnson notes that in Pyle’s LTL operation drivers are usually home every night, so family concerns commonly associated with the issue don’t exist. For the truckload division the carrier has been effective lately in increasing its company operators by 10-20%.

After being hired, the company makes sure to interact with the new driver. “We want to make sure from an operation and human resources point of view that we understand what issues have come up,” explains Johnson. “There may be matters they may not be comfortable talking about with their operations group—benefits, family issues, operational issues. We make sure we touch them at least three times during the first 90 days to resolve any issues or problems they have.”

Retention is important. “One of the things I think contributes a great deal to our ability to retain drivers is the unusual outreach between ownership, leadership and the drivers,” reflects Peter Dannecker, Pyle’s Director of Loss Prevention. “We have a formal annual meeting where the owners share in great detail all business results and plans with every employee. The drivers are invited to that and it’s well attended.”

Additionally Pyle has its own truck driving championships attended by the family ownership. Throughout the year there are monthly meetings with leadership at the company’s terminals. “Everyone attends,” continues Dannecker. “There is a constant flow of communication and sensitivity to what the driver’s life is and how this company is being run.”

Based on feedback, some of these meetings have resulted in changes to benefit the drivers. For example there have been alterations in truck specifications aimed at increasing driver comfort. Bunkrooms at some facilities have been remodeled based on issues voiced by drivers who stay in them for over the road and line haul operations.

The company has established and runs a highly successful in-house Truck Driving Academy. “The school is part of the safety department,” explains Jim Cockerham, Driving School Manager. “We are very safety minded. The approach we take to our candidates is to teach them to be safe in everything they do, which extends itself into the training once we start. We get their minds going to thinking about safety. Then it’s easier for me to begin the process of teaching once they understand what safety is all about, especially in the trucking industry.”

Pyle feels it has an advantage in training its own people with its own resources. The curriculum includes eight weeks of formal classroom drill followed by an extended period of on the road work, then follow up and testing. Students are paid throughout the training period. Pyle figures it costs $20,000 to put a candidate through the program. For the company the payback is not only in people and capacity gains but in maintaining what it thinks is an extraordinary culture, one it wants to continue to develop as the company grows.

In creating the School, Cockerham drew on his 40 years of truck driving experience. He developed a 320-hour curriculum supplemented by materials from the federal government and the PTDI (Professional Truck Driver Institute). Based on retention rates, the School has been successful. “We are heading into our fifth year,” says Cockerham. “In the first couple of years our graduating classes were small because we were sort of feeling our way along. But now we’re up to graduating 20 to 30 drivers a year. That sounds like not a big deal but those are quality people, some of whom are in their second and third year of hauling freight for us and being very productive employees.”

After graduation Cockerham has a monthly follow-up for a year. He sends a questionnaire to the drivers and their service center manager. Answers serve to indicate how well the driver is developing and to reveal any issues they may have. There is other ongoing guidance for drivers. For example, every driver in the Pyle fleet receives one-on-one defensive driving training each year whether they have been out of the School for a year or have 45 years of driving experience.

The School is part of a composite effort to get and retain good drivers. “If we get good people in here, train them and treat them right, they’ll feel comfortable about what they’re doing, and become long-term employees,” observes Cockerham.

Schneider National, Inc. (www.schneider.com) has a Training Academy and it brings in its entire fleet for training twice a year. As with other truckload carriers Schneider is challenged to come up with new and ever more creative solutions to finding and hiring enough drivers. Rob Reich, Schneider’s vice president, Driver Recruiting, says a lot of time most recently has been spent on looking at its employment value proposition. The question asked was what sets Schneider apart in the market for a driver, whether experienced, inexperienced or an owner-operator?

“That led us to make a few changes,” explains Reich. “We announced a pay increase that went into effect at the end of September. The intent there was to continue to improve our value proposition so that of the truck driving options, we are clearly if not the best, at least one of the best.”

Another step was to take a hard look at the job market, notes Reich. Calling it their Networks of People strategy, Schneider examined segments of the US population in general, the labor market and where it is growing. The carrier thought it might be underutilizing elements of the labor market and so targeted specific recruiting activities at those particular networks of people.

Women are one of the larger groups that might be introduced into trucking. Fewer than 5% of over the road truck drivers are female, although about 7% of Schneider drivers are women. While the carrier has seen growth in the number, the group still represents a significant opportunity for driver recruitment. Reich notes that Schneider has taken a hard look at Hispanics, as well, since as a group they are the fastest growing segment of the population.

“Our big success story with this strategy has been with mature workers, those over the age of 50,” claims Reich. “We’ve partnered with the American Association of Retired People (AARP) for almost two years. We’re part of their national employment team and are trying to get the word out to mature workers that truck driving is an option for them. We’ve seen significant increase in hires over the age of 50 once we started that work.”

Schneider has a number of ways of reaching those segments. It has found some national organizations to partner with in order to spread its message. “Once we had the AARP seal of approval applications really shot through the roof,” Reich recalls. “The same happened with Hispanic organizations where we’ve worked with La Raza, which is a national Hispanic organization. We’ve tried to think global and act local. We’ve leveraged those national organizations to help us get connected with regional and local organizations helping people find employment. It is at that level where we can really have a one-on-one talk with someone.”

To aid driver retention, Schneider has taken several steps to support their health. ”We’ve been the first carrier to do significant sleep apnea testing,” claims Reich. “We do a survey of all our drivers and identify those that might have a sleep apnea condition. Then we pay for the entire process, so it doesn’t hit their medical insurance. They go in for testing and if it’s found they have sleep apnea, we get them a CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine they wear at night that helps them breath. Their health care costs both for them and the organization have dropped significantly. Too, from a retention standpoint people appreciate that you looked out for them and have set them up in a way that permits them to be successful.”

Schneider also has physical therapists at all of its major operating centers. There’s no cost to drivers for their services. In addition to other services, therapists can perform an ergonomic assessment of the truck.

The bottom line for driver retention, says Reich, is to be forthcoming. “I think it’s very important to be honest about what you have to offer,” he says. “Honesty improves your retention rates right from the beginning. Our challenge is how to make the job better. We can’t sit back and say this type of work keeps you out two or two-and-a-half weeks at a time and that’s the way it is. I think it’s very important that we challenge ourselves again to see how we could improve that experience. We have to engineer our operations to find new business that gets the driver home more often. I think that at the end of the day that’s really what’s going to be successful.”

Not Napping on the Job
Here’s one way to understand micro sleep relative to drivers: Imagine an 80,000 lb. truck going down the road at 60 mph and the driver has a 1- second micro sleep. During that time the driver travels 88 ft unconscious. That’s approximately one-and-a-half times the length of the truck, approximately 8 or 10 car lengths.

Schneider National’s Rob Reich described assistance being afforded those drivers who were affected by sleep apnea. Part of the solution is possible with a detection and treatment program from Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics (PPD-www.precisionpulmonary.com). The company worked with Schneider in efforts to fine-tune the product.

PPD describes its patent-pending program as permitting administration of employer-driven sleep apnea programs that include web-based screening tools, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of the condition.

Studies indicate that as many as 28% of truck drivers are at risk. Savings for commercial and private fleets come in the form of reductions in health care costs for the drivers as well as reduction in frequency of accidents due to driver fatigue. Simply, if drivers don’t get a good night’s sleep, they are more likely to be tired when behind the wheel of their trucks.

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