Get ready to see a lot more 18-wheelers out there. According to the American Trucking Associations, the amount of freight moved by trucks is expected to jump by 20% between now and 2027. But while demand for their services surges, transportation companies are already struggling with capacity. The industry continues to face a driver shortage, as evidenced by high rates of turnover, which currently stand at 71% for large fleets and 64% for small fleets.
Before tens of thousands of new vehicles can roll out, transportation companies are going to need to find people to drive them—and that starts with reducing turnover.
In 4 Steps to Retain Drivers and Keep the Wheels Rolling, our webinar last week with Heavy Duty Trucking, we picked apart the issue of turnover in transportation, and explored a few proven ways companies can keep their drivers safe, productive, and happy. The hour-long conversation between HDT editor-in-chief Deborah Lockridge, Debbie Landry (Director of Driver Services at Halvor Lines), and John Piper (former Sales Director of Transportation at Compli) began with a simple question:
What’s the True Cost of Driver Turnover?
Deborah told us that despite the serious, pressing nature of the issue—the trucking industry will need 96,000 new drivers a year for the next 10 years to meet projected demand—many companies fail to accurately measure the costs of driver turnover:
“Whenever you replace a driver, there are costs in terms of recruiting, onboarding, those trucks that are sitting and not making money, and the fact that drivers tend to be less productive in those first few months as they learn the ropes of your company. A number of years ago, a Great Plains Transportation Institute study of 15 carriers found an average cost of turnover per driver ranged from about $2,200 to some $20,000, for an average of just a little over $8,000. While that’s not a recent survey, I doubt the costs have gone down since then. If the cost of hiring a driver averages $5,000 for a company of 200 drivers and 100% turnover rate, you’d spend a million dollars a year just to keep your driving force steady.”
Certainly, any transportation company could stand to save $1 million per year, but how do you improve retention without driving up costs in the short-term? As you might guess from its title, our presentation offered 4 steps. Today, we’ll take look at step 1.
Onboarding: First Impressions Count
For transportation companies, turnover is highest in the first 90 days and up to 6 months after employment. That means fleets need to think about retention on—if not before—day 1.
Debbie Landry, whose unofficial title at Halvor Lines is “vice president of happiness,” knows a thing or two about helping new drivers immediately feel at home. She told us that companies can prime their employees for work, before onboarding even starts, by ensuring that recruiters know the company inside and out and present materials as accurately as possible: “One of the worst things you can hear is when a driver comes in is ‘boy, my recruiter didn’t tell me that,’ or ‘that isn’t what my recruiter said.’”
It’s equally important, she says, to clarify roles and expectations during interviews and training. A personal touch goes a long way:
“We bring [new drivers] to an onsite building at our main terminal in Superior. Our orientation is 3 days long. During that time, they’re going to meet all the different department heads that they’re going to be dealing with on a regular basis. Whether it’s payroll, safety, maintenance, we want them to know who’s in charge if they have a problem in whatever department and feel comfortable enough to go to that person. For instance, it doesn’t make sense for the orientation coordinator to present the things that maintenance expects out of a driver. So let’s let the maintenance people explain that to them.
A nice touch that we do: the day before orientation starts, the vice president of the company calls the prospective driver, welcomes them to the truck, to Halvor Lines. And we fed him a little bit of information on the forefront telling him the driver’s name and how long they’ve been in trucking, or whether they’re a new student, and so he gets a connection with them. And then, during orientation, the president of the company actually comes and makes a presentation and shows a PowerPoint.”
After Debbie shared her company’s practices, John Piper spoke about using technology to make onboarding more efficient and effective. He told us that a systemized, tech-enabled onboarding process is “a tangible way that you can invest in the success of your drivers, and consequently, your business.” Technology applies to the gamut of onboarding procedures, even seemingly trivial things such as paperwork:
“Some of the methods for effective onboarding that we’ve seen include moving paperwork such as driver qualification files, HR forms, W4s, I-9s—whatever type of documents that you want to capture—into the cloud, so a driver doesn’t have to sit at a desk for hours on end, getting writer’s cramp and getting frustrated.”
Other methods include making driver training interactive and up-to-date, and personalizing content so each driver understands their importance to the company. As always, tone at the top and culture make all the difference—John mentioned that every company should focus its messaging on the driver: “So many trucking companies have less than 100 trucks out there and are very family-oriented. Even the larger fleets are trying to get a feel of that personalization of a family organization.”
First impressions also have a direct influence on long-term patterns of performance. Consistent and repeatable onboarding processes help organizations save time and money, and lead to reliable results across multiple locations:
“Whether you’re in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Lexington, Kentucky, or Portland, Oregon, you know you’re delivering the same quality orientation, onboarding, and training that you would get at any location, at any time, and then you can measure and manage those expectations.”
Up Next: Training
In the next part of this series, we’ll explore the role of training—initial training for new drivers, as well as ongoing training on safety, fuel economy, and industry regulations.
Can’t wait until then? You can view the entire presentation for free, on demand! Access 4 Steps to Retain Drivers and Keep the Wheels Rolling here.