Administrators of the Best Fleets to Drive For program have interviewed nominated trucking companies, and once again taken the time to identify emerging trends within the businesses.
Participation in the program continues to grow as well. Drivers nominated 168 companies, leading to a new record of 95 finalists. More than 9,400 drivers were surveyed – another all-time high.
The Top 20 Best Fleets to Drive For, Fleets to Watch, and Hall of Fame inductees will be announced Jan. 31. Overall winners will be crowned at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla., in early March.
But before the winners are selected, we caught up with Carriers Edge co-owner Mark Murrell and CEO Jane Jazrawy, who administer the program, to find out what trends emerged during this year’s judging process.
New truck drivers welcome
More companies nominated as Best Fleets are doing their part to bring new drivers into the trucking industry through new entrant hiring and training programs.
“Everybody is thinking about how to develop new drivers,” said Jazrawy. “This is something we’ve seen grow steadily through the years.”
Carriers that don’t have new entrant programs of their own are partnering with training schools to develop new talent. And fewer are blaming insurance providers for an inability to hire new drivers. Murrell said doing so is a “cop-out” and that leading fleets are working with their insurers to develop such programs.
New entrant programs don’t experience higher driver turnover, either.
“Every year we talk to people who say most of their turnover is new entrants. The numbers don’t support that,” Murrell said. “We see fleets that have new entrant programs actually have better driver retention than those without them.”
Another myth is that most turnover occurs within a new hire’s first 90 days with an employer. Murrell said most driver turnover happens after the first year. Having a new entrant program also gives fleets the opportunity to promote drivers to more training and coaching positions.
Truck driver turnover on the rise
While driver turnover among new entrants isn’t the problem it was thought to be, turnover in general is rising, judges confirmed.
“While turnover is up, the number of people returning is also up,” said Murrell, speculating that drivers may be leaving for greener pastures only to return later. The majority of those leaving the industry permanently are due to retirements.
The gap in driver turnover between Canadian and U.S. trucking companies widened to 41%, Murrell said of driver retention scores. “American companies are struggling more with turnover. That has always been the case, but it’s certainly worse now,” he said.
Fleets maintaining uptime
Fleets are doing more than ever to make maintenance activities less disruptive to drivers, Murrell added.
“Companies are really thinking about how much downtime a driver has when regular maintenance needs to happen,” he said. “Many have adjusted their programs so maintenance gets done when the driver is off-duty or home for the weekend.”
Instead of performing maintenance while someone sits in the driver’s room for several hours, more is being done overnight when the driver is off.
HR programs enhancing managerial talent
Jazrawy has noted an increase in fleets hiring human resources professionals and doing more to develop managerial talent. Formal HR programs are being rolled out, and leadership programs such as 4DX (the Four Disciplines of Execution) or next-gen leadership programs are being utilized for professional growth.
Companies that actively develop their managers and their skills tend to perform better in the Best Fleets program than those that don’t, Murrell said.
Sign-on bonuses are all the rage
Love’em or hate’em, sign-on bonuses are also increasingly popular in trucking as fleets compete for drivers.
“I think they’re a scourge,” admitted Jazrawy. “They are not a sign of strength.”
Added Murrell, “There are so many gotchas in most of them.”
He said fleets are touting massive sign-on bonuses, but include many requirements to actually earn them. “In the vast majority of cases they’re paid out over a year and often heavily backloaded,” he said. “Some fleets talk about very large sign-on bonuses, but when you look at the criteria they’re more like a regular bonus. You have to be there two years, keep your miles up, be safe. Those are not really a sign-on bonus, they’re just a regular performance bonus you start accruing when you start at the company.”
Jazrawy said most fleets that offer sign-on bonuses admit they don’t like doing it, but feel obligated as a way to stay competitive. “It’s not because they think it’s a great way to do business,” Jazrawy said of the contentious bonuses. “A lot have said they don’t like them, but if everybody else is doing them, they’re stuck.”
She said referral bonuses offer a more successful approach. One fleet has a referral bonus that pays out every year the referred hire remains with the company. Drivers who successfully refer others can end up earning significantly more income in future years if those referrals stay with the company, and the referrers themselves are motivated to stay and continue earning those bonuses.
“Fleets that have a robust referral plan for drivers often don’t have recruiting issues; they have a waiting list instead,” Jazrawy said.
Then there’s the matter of communication. “TikTok has arrived in trucking,” said Jazrawy, noting fleets have become increasingly adept at utilizing social media. “This is the fastest we’ve ever seen a new technology adopted.”
“TikTok came out of nowhere,” agreed Murrell. “It’s not pervasive, like Facebook, but it’s noticeable.”
Some fleets are encouraging drivers to use their social media feeds to attract new drivers, and rewarding them for referrals. Other fleets are using platforms such as Facebook Live to communicate with their scattered workforce and keep drivers informed of company activities.
Fleets are using social media in three ways: as a sales/recruitment tool; for entertainment; or to engage drivers. “The top level is engaging with drivers,” said Jazrawy. Some, for instance, set up private driver’s groups where those invited can share ideas, communicate with management, and even remotely attend company meetings.
Some fleets even use social media to engage with drivers’ families. The industry’s embrace of social media contrasts its initial fear of the technology when drivers first began sharing their thoughts and experiences on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.