New Thinking on Retention Issues

I recently returned from the ATA MC&E (Management Conference and Exhibition) that was held in Las Vegas. I was there to share in my dear friend Kevin Burch’s limelight as he assumed the role of Chairman for the 2016/17 term. Kevin is the President of Jet Express out of Dayton, Ohio and he will do an outstanding job as our industry leader. He has all the qualities needed to be successful in the role; he has passion, common sense and he is extremely knowledgeable. Maybe above all else, Kevin is a connector. He is one of those folks that other people gravitate to as he has time for everyone and people like being around him. Congratulations Kev, I know you’ll do us proud!

Of course while at the ATA’s event I took in many of the sessions that were available and watched as “experts” discussed the sideshow that is the upcoming US election. I watched a panel discussion on autonomous vehicles and platooning which is coming much sooner than many of us think. I walked the massive trade show and was struck by the shear volume of tech companies that filled the aisles. I would bet that half the vendors were offering either totally new technologies or upgraded technical systems. It’s quite a change from years past. I also sat in on the ATA executive committee meeting where different committees report on their action and occasionally request authority from the executive committee to act on one issue or another. It was at this meeting that once again, the most recent top issues for trucking companies were revealed by ATRI (American Truck Research Institute). The list can be found at: The session one slide was called Top Issues Drivers vs. Carriers. I was struck by the Motor Carrier Executive’s side of the slide where it showed the number one concern was the Driver Shortage while the number six issue was Driver Retention. Does anyone else but me see a disconnect here? This suggests to me that these carriers have thrown in the hat on retention and that it is so engrained into the industry that motor carrier executives don’t even connect the dots between driver shortage and driver retention anymore. For years I have spoken to large and small groups about how destructive driver turnover or churn is to our industry. This can be fixed but not by simply accepting it as an inevitable part of running a trucking company. No way.

Here’s a good question. What does a positive working environment look like? From ownership’s side of the desk it would be dedicated employees who worked diligently in their given role to the maximum benefit of the person or company who signs the cheque. Hold it, wait just a minute. This is what the base line of the employer employee relationship has been for years and, as far as the industry driving force goes, it hasn’t worked all that well for us. Let’s try it again. Empowered employees who work towards mutually benefiting both themselves and their employer? This is getting closer I think.

As you can tell I am definitely not an HR employee candidate. In fact in a previous life, my definition of a long day was sitting in meetings with our HR department as we get in touch with each other’s feelings and they slowly zapped my spirit into submission. Would someone please just show me the rules I can’t break and let’s get on with it?

I believe it was Henry Ford who said “ There is only one secret to success; it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.” I think Henry was on to something here. So what this might entail as an employer is engaging the workforce to use their own ideas and insights to move the entire business forward and show them how, in doing so, there is a win/win result.

Trucking has not been very good at this and as such it has lagged behind other sectors of the economy and it has suffered ridiculously high turnover for years because of it. It has become a self fulfilling prophecy for many companies. These folks would be the ones stating that they don’t make drivers like they used to which is absolutely right, they don’t. So what have these companies done to change with the times? If they have done nothing but complain, they are either gone or are on their way out and they still don’t know why.

A successful company of today realizes that the welfare of their workforce is paramount to their company’s success. That welfare comes in the form of policies and procedures that are designed not only as a guideline of the rules governing behavior in the workforce but also offer opportunities for growth and education of the worker and Owner Operator. Those companies who view their drivers, Owner Operators and inside the wall workers as a strategic advantage in the marketplace that need continuous attention and nurturing will win in the long run, compared to companies who view their workforce as a necessary evil who are only needed to serve their customers and produce the revenue.

Some companies get it and others don’t know how to get it and some don’t care. But the secret to sustainable success is gained through insight and knowledge of the front line people who do the work day in and day out at thousands of trucking companies across this county. To get there, a foundation of trust and respect has to be built. A line drawn in the sand so to speak. Not too many owners have the courage to go here. It takes guts and it takes vision.

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.