Mentoring Programs to Reduce Turnover

For many years I have attended trucking association events and the one I attend on a regular basis is the TCA (Truckload Carriers Association) annual meeting. I haven’t missed one for 26 years. Others I attend more sporadically are the OTA (Ontario Trucking Association) and ATA (American Trucking Associations’) annual conventions. In this industry one could be at a different event in a different city almost weekly if one wished to. The trick is to determine which one has the greatest likelihood of yielding something of value that you can implement to the betterment of your company. I tell folks that there is a 24 to 48 hour rule regarding conferences, meaning that you need to act a.s.a.p. on any idea or material you have discovered. If nothing happens past this timeframe, you will likely find the material on the corner of your desk or in a drawer six months later and you will have a vague recollection of something that used to be a good idea. When I go to an event and invest travel and time, I ask myself when I get home if this event is something I plan on attending next time it comes – if the answer is no, I do not attend again.

On a positive note, one event that was of particular value to the motor carrier I was running was a roundtable session that I attended that was being moderated by Kevin Burch, President of Jet Express and currently the incoming ATA Chairman. TCA roundtables are handled this way; the room is set up with the moderator standing in the middle to stimulate conversation and debate by offering up an idea or a program that they have implemented in their company.

In this instance Kevin was discussing a mentoring program that Jet Express had adopted and he was articulating how it worked and what the results were at Jet. The timing of this for me was impeccable as we were about halfway through an effort that we had taken on to drastically cut our turnover rate. We measured everything possible related to our turnover problems and through our analysis we found a number of interesting things. Most significant was that the numbers showed that if we could keep our drivers at the company for at least a year, then on average, they stayed with us for at least five years.

What this revelation did was to tell us that we needed to bring a laser focus on all things related to that time frame, without of course, losing sight of our overall turnover numbers. We stripped down our orientation; we did the same with our hiring criteria, our truck training program, our equipment introduction process and on and on right down the line. We did all these things and sure we saw some improvement, but what Kevin revealed during that round table was an ‘ah ha’ moment for our short term turnover effort.
I still vividly remember what happened after that round table during which, Kevin invited those that were interested to contact him at his office after the convention. He said he would share in detail what they were doing at Jet with mentoring. I don’t recall exactly, but I probably called Kevin the Monday after he returned from the TCA Annual convention to start that conversation. Remember the 24 to 48 hour rule? As I recall, Kevin sent me the forms that Jet had developed for the program and the details that he had promised. What it also started was the beginning of a great friendship which I highly value to this day. Kevin Burch is an honest, decent, companionate family man. He has great conviction to this industry and will guide competently and successfully the ATA during his upcoming term as Chairman, just as he did during a successful term as TCA Chairman.

So off I go to talk to our retention action team. I articulate what I learned during my time at the convention and my subsequent discussion with Kevin and I suggested that we design a program similar to what was being used at Jet. The primary reason being, through all our efforts to curb our short-term turnover, we were stuck on about 50% while our long-term numbers were half of that.
So off the team goes to design a program. We reach out to our entire inside workforce and ask for volunteers. We then train them on the basics including the paperwork we require them to fill out. We adjust our orientation to accommodate introductions of our volunteer mentors to our new hires and we give them content for the weekly conversations they are going to have with the newbies. Items such as: asking if the company was represented properly during the hiring and orientation processes, did they understand their first pay statement, how are they getting along with dispatch etc.?

This new program also garnered an ongoing stream of information coming back to the retention team from all our new hires through the paperwork filled out by the mentors. Just to clarify, this information is coming from a new hire and being given to a peer. These volunteers were billing clerks, mechanics and warehouse people and there was no hierarchy in the relationship between the mentor and the new driver which I believe, helped the whole program to succeed.

Succeed it did by the way. To everyone’s amazement we took our short-term turnover rate from 50% to 25% within four months. This is a staggering improvement over a relatively short time frame and while it may be hard to believe, it happened and it would not have happened if not for Kevin sharing during that TCA roundtable at that convention.

What is missing from the story is the mountains of work we did to get us in the position to be successful with a program such as this. I’ll get to that during later articles. Please drop me a line if you are interested in learning more on this subject.


Safe Trucking

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.