Drivers

Commentary: Large and Small, Fleets Focus on the Driver

July 2017, TruckingInfo.com - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

When your drivers nickname you the “vice president of happiness,” you must be doing something right.

Debbie Landry’s official title at Wisconsin-based Halvor Lines is director of driver services. After spending many years heading up recruiting, a couple of years ago she shifted her focus entirely to driver retention.

“Basically I’m here for the drivers,” Landry says, from overseeing orientation and handling truck assignments to simply being there for drivers to come talk about problems or questions. Some even ship things to her office when they’re on the road.

In her previous role, she had gradually been focusing more and more on retention rather than recruiting. So with the opening of a third terminal, the growing family business decided to create a new position to make that her official role and hired someone else to manage recruiting.

Landry says Halvor’s turnover actually increased a bit last year, from 27% in 2015 to 35% in 2016, but she says that’s largely due to the company hiring more new-to-the-industry trainees in a period of growth. She believes if it hadn’t been for the company’s driver retention efforts, that turnover would have been higher.

The company has 425 trucks and has been honored multiple times in the Truckload Carriers Associations’ Best Fleets to Drive For competition. Halvor runs new equipment with lots of comforts, including satellite TV and exercise steppers. Drivers are home weekly or every other weekend. There’s a health and wellness program, a passenger program, and a pet program.

But perhaps the open communication is one of the biggest reasons drivers stay. They are introduced during orientation to the people they’ll deal with in various departments and are always welcome to talk to them. And if they don’t feel comfortable going to their driver manager or the person who handles their paycheck, there’s always the vice president of happiness.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to have a go-to person,” Landry says, someone who has compassion for drivers and what they face on the road. “Sometimes I’m just a sounding board. They all know they can just come into my office and talk.”

That’s doable when you have a few hundred drivers. But what do you do when you are Scott Barker at Phoenix-based truckload giant Swift Transportation?

Swift recently created a new position – vice president of driver engagement – and named Barker to the role. With nearly 40 years of experience ranging from spotting yard tractors to safety, training and development, Barker was practically giddy about the chance to really make a difference for Swift’s drivers.

“[Swift founder] Jerry Moyes used to say there are really only two types of people at Swift — drivers and those who support drivers,” Barker says. He obviously can’t have 20,000 drivers hanging out in his office, but he has been traveling to visit with as many drivers and support teams as he can and he’s been doing weekly video messages delivered via drivers’ in-cab Omnitracs systems. “The drivers have come to know me and, believe it or not, trust me, because as they have told me time and time again, they can sense that we care about them.”

Barker says he’s looking at many ways to help drivers feel valued and part of a team. And just as with Halvor, a key part of that is communication. That could be the weekly video messages, Barker’s new blog, weekly webinar/conference calls between drivers and their driver leaders, or providing web portals where drivers can find information. Through it all, he says, “I’m focused on helping to enhance drivers’ self-perception and understanding of how truly valuable they are to us and the economy as a whole.”

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