The simple truth is that the low retention rates prevalent in the trucking industry are nothing more than a business challenge gone unchecked. Having a successful business is a difficult thing to achieve, no matter the industry or company. Being in the trucking industry exaggerates this challenge since it is capital-intensive and there are very few restrictions to enter the industry, other than courage and money. Now add to this the margins that are razor-thin by most business standards, and you begin to understand how so many new companies always seem to pop up as they do and why so many fail.
In the beginning, the trucking company owner must wear many hats to get the business off the ground. They are usually the company’s first dispatcher, the first salesperson, the first safety manager, the first billing clerk and the first bookkeeper, to name a few essential functions. This type of pressure can be overwhelming to all but the determined few. So as the company begins to gain traction, the task of adding and retaining drivers starts to get a little too finite.
As companies expand, few ever go down the road of strategic planning. If they do, they might discuss the plan to build the company through additional sales and trucks. A discussion might also ensue concerning the business’s infrastructure, what needs to be added to accommodate the extra work budgeted. To some entrepreneurs, this entails the additional expense of hiring people before the additional revenue has been secured.
Most business owners find this scary, but if it is not done, then things can quickly fall off the rails. Spending each day putting out fires because the company is understaffed can wear down the business owner and the rest of the staff. Driver retention usually starts to take a beating at this point.
Scenario one allows the company time to filter through available candidates and train them to be precisely what is needed. Scenario two puts much more strain on the hiring process. It rushes things and it also likely shortens the training period for the new person, leading to performance issues and possibly more fires to put out. At this point, driver retention is not priority one, not that it shouldn’t be. It is just such a hectic atmosphere that the priorities get blurred when one is always playing catch up.
Core fundamentals that need to be in place when talking about driver retention are nicely displayed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham Maslow
In my public speaking, I can usually hold a group’s attention with this discussion when I do presentations about driver retention. Most folks can absorb the concept; they get it. What they have a much harder time understanding is that this is a foundational concept of retention. In practice, it needs to be brought along slowly and thoughtfully. It is not something that can be muscled into place or that happens naturally. I have talked to many owners, and many of them want to act first and plan later. It’s the old joke of shoot first and ask questions later – and then they are confused because things don’t change to the extent they wanted.
Abraham Maslow put forth a theory that each of us is motivated by a series of priorities that drive our aspirational decisions daily. It looks like this: at the first level we need sustenance (food) which in trucking means wages. How much are you going to pay me? This relates to respect also. Next is the second level – we need to be safe; we need shelter. In trucking, this means how old the truck is, the reputation of the fleet I am working at or looking at for future employment. The third level is that of belonging – communication. We are social mammals; how does the company interact with their drivers, is it effective, is it consistent and does it give valuable helpful information? The fourth level is self-esteem or recognition; we need feedback and acknowledgment of what we do for the business. No one wants to feel taken advantage of or have the feeling of being taken for granted. Finally, the fifth level is self-actualization. I plan on being the best I can be in this profession. Does this company provide me with the tools and educational opportunities for me to advance
in my chosen field?
The paragraph above holds the key to retention. It is the holy grail, in my opinion. As I have said many times before, this is a complex issue for most trucking companies that took years to manifest. Do not fool yourself into thinking that there are any quick fixes to getting things under control. There are, of course, many vendors who have jumped on the pain that many companies suffer. The ROI (Return on Investment) for these services is usually handsome when you compare the average cost to hire a driver is in the range of $6 and $12K. The question becomes, to what reduced retention level will we get to, and can we sustain it? In many cases, the benefits are marginal.
Now take one of these products and nest it inside a company that has decided that driver retention will be the business’s primary focus. Now you have an excellent opportunity to make lasting change. If you would like to hear some of my ramblings in more detail, please jump to:
It’s always been confusing to me that when something threatens the trucking industry or an individual company, they will pivot on a dime to manage their way through whatever obstacle. Talk about resilience. But when it comes to driver retention, many look for ways to find new drivers rather than stop and try to find a way to stem the leakage of drivers from their company. Driver retention can be solved and needs to be looked at as a threat to the company’s very existence.
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.