For answers, owners say "pleasers"

Trucks Article June 11, 2001
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There is some agreement that the shortage of skilled truck drivers is even more pressing now than it was as recently as two yea

There is some agreement that the shortage of skilled truck drivers is even more pressing now than it was as recently as two years ago.

The situation appears to be handing companies a four-part challenge:

1. How to locate promising recruits;

2. How to avoid trouble while acquiring recruits;

3. How to keep sound recruits interested in the career ahead through the break-in period; and

4. How to convince those who become skilled drivers to remain in their jobs and do that in a cost-effective manner.

Meeting the four challenges is what managers of trucking operations talk about when they get together, and anyone with news on how to meet the fourth challenge receives the most attention.

There is no sure way to get around challenge one. If there were, operators would not be still trying a wide range of suspected remedies like running recruitment ads, contacting driver training schools and just plain luring drivers away from the competition by offering signing bonuses.

There was a large color picture in a recent issue of a national trucking publication which showed a giant billboard covered with a driver recruiting advertisement. Words under the picture made a point with which many agree–the best driver-recruit recommendations come from a fleet’s own drivers.

It may sound simplistic but the best way around challenge two seems to be doing what’s recommended and not taking any shortcuts. Examples include: road testing those who claim to be able to drive, drug and alcohol testing and a detailed written examination. Be sure to check driving records and references.

With regard to challenge three, a partial solution has been found in having an established company driver ride along with a new operator during his early days on the road.

Using a much more unorthodox plan, one private fleet went a step further. Its manager reported that the company is having considerable success by selecting a current driver to serve as a new operator’s mentor during the time it takes him to learn the ropes.

"We found that 80% of our driver turnover came during the first few weeks on the job," the manager said. "We saw that we had to do something. Today we are glad we started the program, even though it added to our expenses."

Both ride-along drivers and mentors cost money, but so does losing promising recruits during the break-in period.

One obvious way to meet challenge four is to raise established drivers’ pay. That is not too popular in an era when the price of fuel is getting most of the raises in truck operations. It loses favor further when drivers expect raises in each succeeding paycheck.

The most success in keeping what turn out to be skilled drivers on the payroll, fleets report, is the use of "driver pleasers." These are truck features and components that appeal to drivers, often by making their work easier.

Fleets get a bonus if "driver pleasers" deliver a cost reduction through their useful lives.

Examples include the Easy Shifters, automatic or automated transmissions, which produce a fuel saving by making sure that shifts come at the correct time. Once dismissed by skilled drivers as components for "sissies," they are now welcomed because they take some of the hard work out of dealing with today’s mounting volume of traffic on the nation’s roads.

General Motors, with no reputation for being loose with money, was building a second factory for its Allison Division, innovator of automatic transmissions for trucks. Sales of automatics were going so well that the size of the new factory had to be doubled before the facility was completed.

Eaton’s Fuller line has already moved its Auto-Shift automated gearboxes down to six- and seven-speed models to be installed in medium trucks.

Recent months also have been booming times for the Easy Riders air-suspension systems which smooth the ride to protect truck, cargo and, above all, driver, and for air-suspended seats that are of direct benefit to drivers.

The operators’ urge "to keep in touch" is met with a choice of truck-mounted equipment from cell phones to two-way radios.

Steps taken to increase driver comfort on the road include provision for roomy cabs with more belly room at the wheel and walk-through room at the seats.

Further, there are tracking systems which make it almost impossible to get lost or miss a delivery point.

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