Judging for this year’s Best Fleets to Drive For program revealed fleets that were cost-conscious in a down market were still resourceful and creative in improving driver programs, often in ways that didn’t require a significant monetary investment.
“This was a year of fleets circling the wagons and retrenching on their core elements and focusing on optimizing what they’ve been doing rather than implementing a whole lot of broad experiments and trying a whole bunch of new things,” said Mark Murrell, co-owner of CarriersEdge, the online training firm that runs the program. “It’s been sort of a retrenching year.”
Many fleets over the past year were in cost-containment mode, as freight volumes dried up and rates contracted. Drivers, too, suffered from the slowdown. Trish Bethell, Best Fleets program manager with CarriersEdge, reported total compensation for drivers (including bonuses, accessorial pay, and benefits), fell 2.6% from 77 cents/mile to 75 cents. Drivers were also putting fewer miles under the tires over the past year, further hindering their pay.
But carriers continued to make efforts to improve the workplace for their drivers, despite the tough operating environment. And some of those initiatives weren’t particularly costly.
Training for managers
Fleets stepped up management training in an effort to better support drivers, noted Rick Duchalski, communications specialist with CarriersEdge. He noted 57% of Best Fleets nominees had some form of leadership or management training in place, well above results from previous years.
“Companies are investing in teaching their leaders how to lead drivers,” he said.
Added Murrell: “A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been 57%. It might have been 5%. And the management training was generally, ‘We send them to industry conference and they go to association events’. That would be the extent of it. Now they’re starting to recognize they need a good quality management team in order to provide quality supports for drivers.”
Mentorship also increasing
Duchalski also noticed an increase in the number of fleets providing drivers with formal mentorship programs, and the depth of those programs has improved.
“There was a time where the mentoring program was, you give the new recruit the phone number of another driver,” he said. “This year, we have 67% that have some kind of formal mentoring program. They have 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins and have feedback between the driver and mentor that’s much more robust.”
The 67% of nominated fleets with formal driver mentorship programs was up from just 59% last year.
Improved vacation policies
Many Best Fleet finalists improved vacation policies. Murrell said trucking employers are beginning to catch up with employers from other industries in offering RRSP or 401k contributions as well as paid vacation time and more flexibility around taking advantage of that vacation time.
Sixty-two per cent of fleets among this year’s finalists allowed drivers to begin accruing paid time off as soon as their employment commenced rather than after a full year of service. Now, 82% of Best Fleets had a top end of more than two weeks paid time off, and more than 10% had an upper limit of four or more weeks, marking a 30% increase in fleets that do.
Carriers are also being more flexible in when and how their drivers can take that time off; rather than offering them a block to take all at once at the carrier’s discretion, they’re usually able to take individual days at their choosing.
Increasingly focused HR
Best Fleets judges were prepared to see trucking employers cut back on their human resources programs, but they found that carriers were instead becoming more focused on who they were hiring and how to support them.
“There were definitely some that were still pretty aggressive on their new entrant programs and trying to keep drivers,” Murrell said. This included more outreach to former drivers who left the company.
Bethell noted a sharp increase in carriers that check in with new hires after orientation, to 75% from just 32% last year. And now 35% of fleets are personally calling former drivers who have left the company to see if they’d be interested in returning.
This is a process that had become increasingly automated, Bethell noted, as fleets resorted to drip campaigns and automated emails or texts to test a driver’s willingness to return.
“But a full 35% are finding out who in the company had the best relationship with that employee and trying to get that driver back,” she noted. “You can’t just defer to the technology to do all the work for you. You’ve still got to have that personal connection.”
Best Fleets are also being more mindful about the dispatchers or managers they pair drivers up with, with 39% relying on personality tests to determine compatibility. They’re also making more effort to pair drivers with dispatchers or managers who share the same primary language.
Natural disaster preparation
An increase in extreme weather and natural disasters has also been noticed by a growing number of trucking employers. In previous years, the Best Fleets administrators found trucking companies were most focused on business continuity in the event of natural disasters, but now they’re increasingly providing supports for affected drivers – or taking steps to keep them out of danger in the first place.
Sixty-eight per cent of Best Fleets said they pre-emptively reroute drivers around extreme weather. Murrell wondered why the other 32% of nominated fleets aren’t doing so, since it’s a low-cost response to an increasingly common problem.
“They’re not one-offs anymore,” Murrell said of natural disasters. “I thought that after Covid, everybody would be saying ‘You know what, we’ve got to have a plan for these unforeseen events because they’re happening every year now.’ There’s still a lot of companies that haven’t really thought much about it, so they’ve got some opportunities there.”
The industry also has room for improvement when it comes to detention pay, Murrell added. The amount paid to drivers when waiting at shippers and receivers, and when that detention pay picks in, is inconsistent.
He added few industries require an employee to wait two hours before they’re compensated for their time while on the job. “You make your employees hang around for two hours waiting to work and don’t pay them?” he pointed out.
Some fleets have shortened the wait time before detention pay kicks in to 60 minutes. And others have gone a step further and now pay the moment the driver arrives for their loading or unloading appointment.
“But, while that is moving forward, I’m surprised by the number that are still on that two hours and some that are even longer,” Murrell said.
Find out more…
More information on the best practices of the Best Fleets to Drive For will be shared at the first dedicated educational conference put on by the program in Charlotte, N.C., April 8-9. The Best Fleets winners were announced earlier this week, but the top two overall winners will be crowned at the conference.
Details and registration information can be found at: www.bestfleetstodrivefor.com/conference.
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