When Everett Roehl started his company in 1962 with a single truck, terms like pandemic and COVID-19 were not part of his overall company outlook. Fast-forward more than 50 years later, and these words now have an immediate and profound effect on the company psyche.
“Like driving, we’ve always kept our eyes on the horizon to identify potential threats to safety,” says Tim Norlin, Roehl Transport’s vice president of driver employment. “We identified COVID-19 as something to take seriously and to plan for very early on, long before there was discussion of ‘Safe at Home’ orders.”
Norlin and his team developed continuity plans to ensure they could continue to serve the needs of customers and drivers. These plans are continually adjusted and executed based on the changing-daily conditions of the outbreak.
The pandemic has impacted the fleet’s customers in differing ways, with some customers reducing shipments and others increasing them. But since Roehl is a diversified carrier of more than 1,900 tractors and 5,200 trailers, they are ready for the challenge. For example, its refrigerated fleet is moving even more frozen and temperature-controlled loads, such as frozen foods and cheese, to keep up with increased demand.
More Drivers Needed
The increased demand has also led to something the local economy needs – hiring 250 more drivers, even as nationwide unemployment claims top 16 million due to COVID-19 pandemic-related business closures, layoffs and furloughs.
“Our headquarters are in Wisconsin and we have multiple locations in the state,” explains Norlin. “We’re hiring truck drivers, and offering enhanced home time, to support our strong customer base in Wisconsin. We’re also offering paid on-the-job CDL training for people who’ve been impacted by this unprecedented situation. While other employers may be shutting down, we’re open and hiring and meeting the needs of our customers.”
But need is not overtaking caution in dealing with the COVID-19 situation. Roehl has added additional checks to its hiring process and provided additional resources to candidates, especially to those who may be impacted by travel guidelines, office closures, or other obstacles. Having already moved the application process online, Norlin is also helping people who want to get their CDL.
“All orientation locations are practicing social distancing in our classrooms,” adds Norlin. “We are also utilizing video conferencing to reduce the amount of time instructors and our driving candidates spend together.”
Protecting the Team
To keep drivers and office staff safe, the management team has been closely monitoring updates and general information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. They are continuing to focus on enhanced preventive measures and issuing best practices guidance to their employees.
“We are communicating regularly and openly with our employees, answering questions, and making educational resources readily available,” Norlin says. “And, especially for our driving teammates, we’ve provided liquid hand sanitizer that drivers can use to fill up their own bottles. We also have non-medical masks available for each of our drivers. Finally, we’re keeping our terminals open and clean to support our driving teammates in their essential work.”
The Roehl office staff also been practicing social distancing for weeks. Many of the non-driving teammates are working from home, and the company is providing sanitizer and masks to all office and shop employees.
“These are unexpected and unprecedented times, and we’re addressing the challenges,” Norlin says.
Roehl has established an emergency response team that meets regularly to address the challenges of the pandemic.
“We will continue to keep safety our cornerstone value as we navigate through these very difficult times. Our drivers are leaders, and Rick Roehl, our CEO, is also a driver,” says Norlin, adding that Roehl recently created a video showing what he and the team are providing drivers to keep them safe.