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June 20, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Opinion: The Truck Driver Shortage Is a Myth

This Opinion piece appears in the June 20 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Norris Beren

CEO

Risk Reduction Consulting Inc,.

Truck drivers, for the most part, don’t stay with one company for long. They go elsewhere quicker than they can be replaced.

But what if the drivers you have, and want to keep, don’t leave? No more driver shortage.

Beren

The revolving door of drivers coming and going is often caused by one simple but overwhelming factor: the attitude of the CEO, who drives company culture and guides operations people. When their attitude isn’t driver-centric, it makes drivers unhappy, motivated to leave and believe they can do better at another company.

A simple and absolute acceptance of this fact should occur within the trucking industry’s corporate-level executives and leadership teams who run the motor carriers. Fix this problem and you will see the retention percentage begin to improve as long at the employees that these drivers work with adopt a “Drivers Are First” culture — and live by it.

All of the conversations about driver pay, lack of respect, not enough home time and on and on are all the direct result of the value placed on drivers by the CEO. This attitude, be it positive or less than desirable, flows through not only the organization, but how the drivers are treated by everyone in the supply chain with whom they come in contact.

Conducting surveys that describe the characteristics of great drivers, identify what drivers like and don’t like, and explain why they stay or leave, is a start. However, the winners of this game will provide an environment, a philosophy, a way of doing business that exceeds typical best practices by adopting new ways of doing business with the shipper, consignee, dispatch, payroll-settlement, safety employees and drivers.

Predictive assessment tools are used by some companies to test a prospective driver’s attitude, measure of integrity, intelligence and skills. Results that might correlate into a driver being safety minded and just an all-in-all great driver won’t make up for a bad culture or work environment that these great drivers need to be happy and successful.

The Forbes “Best Companies to Work For” and other workers satisfaction surveys — conducted by Fortune, U.S. News, Glassdoor, Crain’s and others — reveal criteria that ranks of highest importance for job satisfaction focus on work environment, working conditions, trust of leadership, culture and work/life balance. Drivers, like most everyone else, seek to work with great people in a trusted, comfortable environment.

How many trucking companies will pass the “so what” test when the recruiter tells prospective drivers about the great place their company is to work for and that their driver turnover is significantly less than the industry standard of 80% or 90%?

Drivers leave because they are not happy. Why? Because they go to work at companies where they believe they will be happy and all their concerns will be dealt with properly and fully — and then discover that is not the case.

Why do some companies enjoy very low turnover? An example is a small regional carrier in Illinois with 33 drivers (50/50 employees/owner operators) that has lost one driver this year. They don’t recruit because they don’t have to — it’s a nice place to work. The owners talk to their drivers every day and they make sure that the drivers know how important they are to the organization and are treated well by the other employees, their customers and receivers.

These owners do not tolerate any abuse or lack of respect or any issues that the drivers will stew about while alone in the truck or at the truck stop talking to other drivers.

Why do most private fleets and some carriers with dedicated operations enjoy turnover in the 15%-to-30% range?

If your company is struggling with retention and recruiting, and you are serious about solving this issue for good, start with these three steps:

1) Try something new and radical. Start by learning and then training everyone that comes into contact with drivers to be nice to them.

2) Then, CEOs of every trucking company also should become the CEO of their firm’s culture, retention and promotion of the “Be Nice” philosophy.

3) Finally, move to adopting the “Next Practices” approach to Retention & Recruiting.

The process of using “Next Practices” thinking can make a significant difference for real reform. The really great companies that enjoy very low driver turnover realize that creativity, innovation and very different levels of thinking and execution are necessary to make a real transformation.

How does your company measure up to being a great place to work, treatment of drivers and adopting innovative strategies to really make a difference in attracting and keeping drivers? How do you know it is a great place to work? Because you, as CEO, think it is?

If you want to create an intelligent driver retention system and are willing to rethink your driver retention practices, create a driver perception survey for your drivers and staff. Get some answers about how you measure up with attracting and retaining drivers, the effectiveness of your communications, the onboarding processes and quality of the interpersonal skills of your employee’s interactions with drivers. The results will help you set the stage for a “listening” culture.

Beren is Risk Reduction Consulting’s chief executive advisor who provides guidance to trucking CEOs. He is author of the new book “How to Create an Intelligent Driver Retention System” and the “Driver Turnover Assessment.”