by Jim Park
am I looking for in a carrier? When was the last time you asked that question,
and then gave it the consideration it deserved? It's one that a lot of drivers
and owner-operators should be asking more often.
We're on the leading edge of what may be the first real human resources crisis
ever to hit the trucking industry. Nobody is entirely sure if the so-called
driver shortage is here yet, or still to come, but signs are pointing to a growing
concern over finding people to drive truck. One of the principle difficulties
in determining if we're there or not is the churning phenomenon - drivers leaving
one carrier and hiring onto another. It skews the numbers pretty badly.
Will churning ever be eliminated? Probably not. But it can be minimized, and
the negative effects and costs can be reduced to a manageable level.
Churning is more prevalent in the most recently hired 10-20% of most fleets'
driver roster, and it's an expensive and time-consuming problem. Statistics
suggest it's the newer 10% of drivers who are most prone to accidents and incidents.
A year's service with the same carrier reduces that risk considerably.
What can drivers do about turnover? We're certainly not about to suggest that
you tough it out and stay with a carrier you're not happy with. What we're suggesting
is that drivers may need to do a lot more research before hiring on to a carrier
in the first place. Making sure the job meets their needs and expectations lessens
the potential for a quick departure.
Linda Gauthier, executive director of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources
Council (CTHRC), has been watching these trends for some time. She says that
when driver is asked by the carrier to leave within the first 90 days, it indicates
that something went wrong in the screening process. If a driver is laid off
within the first two years, it suggests the driver is not meeting the carriers'
needs. But if the driver quits within that time, it suggests there's something
missing in the carrier's capacity to deal with the driver's needs.
"The first 90 days of employment are crucial," she says. "Past
that point, the first two years become crucial. Over 70% of drivers who separate
from a carrier leave or are laid off within two years."
Research done for the driver shortage survey just released by CTHRC [see 'The
Roundup', p. 9] examined the turnover issue and concluded that 70% of all separations
are initiated by the driver. That suggests that, more often than not, it's the
carrier failing to satisfy the driver. Perhaps that's because enough of the
right questions weren't asked up front.
Drivers' expectations of the job range very widely, and if the recruiting and
driver intake process aren't conducted effectively, a lot of their questions
may go unanswered and even unasked. Les Ferris, manager of driver recruiting
and development for Big Freight Systems in Steinbach, Man., thinks the industry's
turnover problem could be reduced significantly if drivers asked more questions
about the carrier's operation, and did a better job of defining their own expectations
during the interview.
"There can be a lot of finger pointing during an exit interview,"
says Ferris. "It's not always clear who is right, but I'm fairly certain
that if drivers were honest with themselves about what they want from the job,
they'd make better decisions about the carriers they choose to work for."
Ferris says that geography is often an issue, with home time suffering because
drivers don't live close to the carrier's service lanes. It's completely understandable
that a driver gets angry when he can't get home, but if home is somewhere the
carrier services only infrequently, there's going to be a problem.
Money is also a big issue with unhappy drivers, and to be brutally honest,
sometimes a driver's financial needs are beyond what the carrier can reasonably
provide. When recruiters promise all the miles a driver can handle, a red light
ought to come on. There are limits imposed by hours of service, and more practical
limits of what a driver can physically accomplish safely. A 10,000-12,000-mile
month is reasonable, 14,000-15,000 is possible, but likely illegal, and anything
beyond that is getting physically challenging.
So if a driver is promised unrealistic mileage, he or she should be asking
how that might be possible. If they don't, they're being set up to fail, Ferris
On the financial front, drivers should be asking carriers what other drivers
in the fleet are earning. From a recruiting point of view, the top earners are
usually mentioned first, so ask what the middle earners are making. Chances
are that's a more realistic projection of your own earning potential.
Schneider National Carriers in Aberfoyle, Ont. hands all prospective drivers
a pay and benefit summary sheet during the initial stages of the recruiting
process. This outlines exactly what they can expect to earn in the first six
months, the first year, and each year after that up to 20 years. The sheet also
lists the possible bonuses, and it shows average and maximum earnings. There's
little doubt where you stand after reading it.
Sure, you can accuse a carrier of being dishonest about earning potential,
but did you ask the right questions? If you own financial needs suggest that
you need to bring home $50,000 per year, but the carrier says you'll realistically
make only $45,000, why would you take the job?
Ferris says he does a pretty thorough job of trying to determine a new driver's
financial needs because he can't afford to hire a driver that he can't keep
"A financial-needs checkup before we hire saves a lot of hassle after
the hire," he says. "I've run across a few drivers who don't do a
good job of managing their money, or who have had some bad luck along the way,
such as a divorce with an expensive settlement, and I've turned them away. They
just wouldn't have made enough here."
Big Freight's pay scale provides a very reasonable income for a driver who
is willing to do a reasonable amount of work, and Big Freight's best-paid drivers
do rather well. But as they say, it's not what you make, it's what you keep.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you get to the preliminary interview, here's what you should
- Find out all you can about the carrier by asking other drivers. Ask
about lanes, pay scale and mileage calculators, additional pay, average
miles, dispatcher personalities, etc. Observe, don't draw conclusions:
talk to several drivers, not just one.
- Make a list of all that you're looking for in a carrier, such as minimum
income, the time you're prepared to spend away, lanes you're prepared
to run, and what you're willing to tolerate in terms of waiting time,
delays, layovers, and other known irritants from past experience.
- Compile a list of all the carriers that seem to have what you're looking
for and make the initial contact. Tell them you're just looking and
that you'd like to find out more, preferably in a telephone interview,
given the difficulty of scheduling appointments.
- Compile a list of questions specific to those carriers.
- Assemble a resumé with past employment history, contact names
and numbers, etc. as well as driving and/or conviction records, etc.,
but leave out all the sensitive information such as driver's licence
number, SIN, drug tests, and criminal background check. They can have
that upon an offer of employment, but be honest about what they can
expect to see. You'd have little right to be offended were the offer
withdrawn because you submitted false information.
Here's what you should be doing when you get to the sit-down interview:
- Arrange an appointment you can be sure you'll make. Dress appropriately
and arrive on time. The carrier will be making decisions based on first
- Lay your cards on the table, knowing at least the basics of what
the carrier is all about. Explain what your needs are, and what you
expect from the job. Then listen while the carrier makes its presentation.
Respect is key here. If they respect you enough to let you tell your
story, do the same for them.
- Ask all the questions you have on your list, and discuss each of the
points you identified as important considerations, even if they have
already come up in the carrier's presentation.
- Ask to see driver pay statements to verify earnings of high, low,
and medium earning potential. Ask to see the carrier's policy and procedures
manual. Read it and question everything that might be a potential deal
breaker, such as a forced dispatch clause.
- Ask for a tour of the shop to get a feel for how well they do maintenance,
and ask to meet the dispatchers and operations people. They're the ones
you'll deal with on a daily basis, not the recruiter.
- Ask about benefits, social functions, and the company's commitment
to the spouse at home, etc. Try to get a feel for how happy other people
are in the organization, and how professional they are. Chances are,
good people won't work for a crummy company.
- Ask how the carrier deals with the difficult situations that are bound
to arise, like unwanted delays, layovers, shortages on pay, etc. Better
to see how they're handled up front than in the heat of the moment.
- At the end of the interview, tell them you want some time to think
about the job. If you have left yourself time before you need to jump
from the previous job, you'll have the luxury of conducting several
interviews before you decide where to go. Ultimately, advise the carrier
of your decision, even if you don't take the job. That's just plain
Sometimes, Ferris says, it's a matter of personal problems or issues that they
haven't worked out before they hire on.
"The long-haul life, 10-day duty cycles, the cost of life on the road,
stuff going on at home, there are all kinds of things that we can't control,"
he points out. "We expect the new driver to be honest with us about what
they want and expect from the job, because the cost to everyone when they quit
is just too high."
And sooner or later, your employment record will catch up to you. In a small
community like Steinbach, or the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, most of
the carriers know each other, and the dispatchers and recruiting people talk.
When a name comes up with a bad record, all the references in the world can't
cover the tracks of a driver who's worked for 10 carriers in five years.
The more you know about the carrier, and the more the carrier knows about what
you want and need, the better the chances of forging a long and happy relationship.
But of course, there will be times when things come to a head. That's when the
good relationship really pays off. If you need a change of scenery, some time
off, or something else out of the ordinary, there's a better chance your needs
will be met in a relationship that's working for both parties.
Interview the Interviewer
Why wait 'til you're so desperate in a job that you absolutely must be working
again by this time tomorrow? That doesn't leave you much time to research a
carrier. And it certainly doesn't leave much latitude in selecting the carrier
that's right for you.
The job market has changed a lot over the past five years. Virtually every
carrier in the country is hiring, or at least interviewing. So why should you
limit your prospects to the first carrier that says yes? If you begin your job
search in advance of your anticipated need, you'll have time to make the right
decision. But of course, that 'right' decision demands an honest assessment
of your needs, and a thorough investigation of what the carrier has to offer.
Andy Roberts, director of Mountain Transport Institute in Castlegar, B.C.,
say drivers should be presenting themselves to carriers with all their credentials,
qualifications, and experience, then saying 'Here's what I can do for you, what
are you going to do for me?'
"Drivers don't seem to realize that it's a driver's market right now,
and it likely will be for some time to come," Roberts says. "They're
not playing their cards right. They think the best chance they have for gain
is by threatening to quit. In fact, the best chance they have is during the
And who is going to say no to a good driver with a bit of experience? All you
need to do is be honest in your needs assessment, reasonable in your expectations,
and thorough in your investigation.
If you've got what a carrier is looking for, you're golden. You're a valuable
prospect, Roberts says. Why blow the opportunity to land the right job by not
being honest with yourself first in terms of what you need and want? Why blow
a great opportunity by leaping into the first vacant seat?
In this day and age, good, qualified drivers have the upper hand in the employment
picture, but as Roberts says, too few of them manage it well.
"It's not a time to be arrogant or ignorant," he says. "It's
a time when the value of the real pros stands out. And it's a perfect opportunity
to let your professionalism speak for you. You can have the job you want, if
you know what you're looking for and know how to get it."