Is the driver shortage about demographics, pay, or how drivers are treated?

Is the driver shortage about demographics, pay, or how drivers are treated? 

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If you talk to truck drivers about the driver shortage, they’ll often contend that there is no shortage – only a shortage of enough pay to entice drivers into the industry. But if you spend a little more time talking to them, you’ll hear that basically there’s not enough pay to make up for the poor working conditions and lack of respect.

And all too often, that lack of respect is coming from the people they work for. Maybe your company is doing and saying all the right things from a corporate standpoint, but when it comes down to day-to-day interactions, there’s a problem.

That’s why the position of dispatcher or driver manager (or whatever you call them at your company) is so important. Yes, it’s also important that drivers be treated with respect when they take their truck into the shop or call accounting about their check or when dealing with the safety department about something they need to work on. But the dispatcher or driver manager is the person they deal with the most.

At the McLeod Software User Conference in Denver, I heard a few interesting ideas from two sessions about recruiting and retaining drivers (one of which I moderated.)

1. Treat Drivers as Customers

Lamar Quinn of R.E. Garrison trucking said it’s important to realize that drivers are an internal customer, just as important as your external customers. He discovered by accident that former restaurant managers make great driver managers – because while they may not have experience in trucking, he said, they are experts at customer service. Anyone who’s worked in the restaurant business or had friends or family who have know that restaurant customers can be some of the most demanding there are. “This pickle is on the wrong side of my hamburger.” With that kind of experience, they’re great at solving driver complaints – and they get to work more regular hours.

2. Foster a Low-Stress Environment

When dispatchers or driver managers are stressed, that’s going to show through in their dealings with drivers. If they get yelled at, guess who gets yelled at? Jerry Harris of Gypsum Express told the tale of an exec hired from another company who was amazed at the lack of yelling and hollering. “Why would there be?” Harris said. At his company, they stress to drivers that they will be treated with respect, that if there’s something that needs to be addressed in a driver’s performance, they will have an adult, professional discussion about it, without yelling.

3. Leverage Your Experienced Driver Managers

At Montgomery Transport, they have developed a new senior driver manager position, said Matt Lader from Montgomery Transport. Senior driver managers have the experience needed to give less-experienced staff advice on how to handle a situation. “Instead of going straight to the operations manager, they can go to the senior driver manager, who can say, ‘Have you tried this?’ or ‘We know we can do this’ for the driver. Drivers are getting responses faster, so it helps with that dynamic. The company put this into place three or four months ago, and it has worked well both from an operations standpoint, as well as improving the driver retention rate.

4. Use Technology for Efficiency, But Don’t Go Overboard

Rita Miller of Freymiller Trucking said using McLeod software “definitely makes a difference” in dispatcher/driver manager productivity. Data analytics can help do things like identify drivers who are getting lower miles than they want, so it can be addressed proactively before the driver even complains. “If that driver is low on miles the driver manager is responsible for coaching the driver,” noted Lader.

However, you can only take it so far.

Freymiller has found that 35 to 45 is probably the ideal number of drivers per manager. “We had tried doing a super group and giving them like 70 to 80, and we found that doesn’t work so well,” she said. “The management part of it was fine, but you lose the personal contact; you just don’t have the time.”

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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