Trucking fleets of all types are struggling with recruitment and retention of qualified drivers. The cherry on top for the beverage distribution industry is the physical requirements often demanded of drivers to unload deliveries, which can deter people from entering the industry.
Manhattan Beer Distributors is one of the largest beer and beverage distributors in New York City, and it needs more than 300 drivers to man its 25 over-the-road trucks, and 375 delivery trucks. New York State also requires its tractor drivers to have a Class A commercial driver’s license. As one can imagine, recruiting drivers can be a challenge.
Because it’s easier to find drivers without a CDL, Manhattan Beer hires younger drivers to operate its smaller delivery trucks, with the goal to train them to eventually transition to its CDL fleet.
“We work with them, we train them, we then help them get their permit for a CDL,” Manhattan Beer CEO Simon Bergson said during a Volvo press event in August. “We then pay for their capability to apply and get the CDL. We give every driver a truck for their tests. We basically help them graduate from a non-CDL driver to a CDL driver. We then hope that we retain them.”
The in-house program guarantees the new hires a starting base pay rate while they complete training and get a sense of their role and the fleet operations, says Michel Bergson, Manhattan Beer’s chief transformation officer.
Within the first two weeks, Manhattan Beer expects the new hires to complete classroom training and acquire their DOT medical card. Within the first month, they must acquire a permit, and within the first 10 weeks they will have completed road training and scheduled their road test.
Manhattan Beer performs training in-house, but relies on outside resources for some of the classroom training.
While not all drivers stick with Manhattan Beer after they obtain their CDL, Simon Bergson said sometimes they do – and that’s worth the investment.
Of course, the fleet would have an easier time running trucks that don’t require a CDL, but from a business perspective it’s not as efficient as running their Class 8 fleet to full capacity, he added.
To help sweeten the deal even further, Manhattan Beer also invests in its equipment.
“What we’ve learned is by retrofitting these vehicles with air conditioning and backup cameras and all the safety features, the drivers in the area are realizing that, even though it might be a little bit more physical work in the beer industry, the vehicle is a much nicer, quieter, safer vehicle,” Simon Bergson said. “And we are able to get some drivers from other industries.”
Manhattan Beer was one of the first fleets in New York City to begin converting its diesel truck fleets to compressed natural gas. Earlier this year it also began welcoming its first batch of Volvo VNR Electric trucks.
The company plans to eliminate diesel within four years by switching 35 trucks a year to either electric or compressed natural gas. Most likely, the fleet will continue with electric, following successful deployment of its first five electric trucks, said Juan Corcino, senior director of fleet operations and sustainability at Manhattan Beer, during the press event.
By keepings drivers in newer, decked-out trucks, and investing in their driving careers, Manhattan Beer can keep its demanding operation attractive to drivers in New York City, Long Island and the surrounding counties.
This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.