Home Truck News Erb Group's Dietrich discusses recruiting, leadership, and employee wellness - Truck News

Erb Group’s Dietrich discusses recruiting, leadership, and employee wellness – Truck News

David Dietrich spent 30 years working for The Erb Group before retiring in May, but he capped the career earlier this month with Trucking HR Canada’s HR Leader of the Year award – recognizing achievements as the fleet’s vice-president of people and culture.

He took on that job in 2008, after 15 years as controller, making recruitment and retention a top priority, developing health and wellness programs, and strengthening and promoting the workplace culture.

“All trucking companies are dealing with those same issues,” he says.

“Without the resources, without people, you’re not going to be able to run your business. We need to have good-quality people. So, that just naturally kind of rises to the top [of the list] in terms of priorities.”

David Dietrich, Erb Transport
David Dietrich is Trucking HR Canada’s HR Leader of the Year. (Photo: Erb Group)

Erb Transport doubled the number of company hires after creating a dedicated recruitment team, but that wasn’t the only key to attracting talent, he says. Promoting openings and the company itself through various social media channels has paid dividends. In-person job fairs have also been successful.

The in-person events shifted online during the pandemic, but now applicants are invited to the terminal for a tour to meet managers and team leaders alike.

“We tell them about our organization and answer their questions. And if they’re ready, help them to complete an application right then and there,” Dietrich says.

New approaches to driver pay

The fleet has even changed its approaches to scheduling and pay to help seal the deals.

“Drivers are the front line, they’re our most important resource. So, we want to make sure that they’re treated fairly and paid appropriately,” Dietrich says, referring to options that emerged through a driver pay committee.

“We found that rather than paying by the mile or anything like that, [some drivers] preferred an hourly pay. That was easier to understand, easier to calculate, [and] easier to explain to new hires.”

Local drivers mostly opt for hourly pay rather than incentive-based packages.

Different types of driving jobs also offer a recruiting advantage. Local drivers in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba get to come home to their families every evening. Regional drivers secure trips that are typically two to three days long. Longhaul jobs offer work preferred by younger single drivers or older empty nesters, keeping them on the road a week or two at a time.

“[Drivers] can transfer from these various positions as they have different changes in their life,” Dietrich says.

Diversifying the workforce

But there’s also been a focus on finding ways to diversify the mix of employees.

Women are featured in advertising and social media to help attract more of them to the industry. Purchasing more G-Class straight trucks for local drivers has also helped attract candidates without AZ licences.

“We have some female mechanics,” he adds. “We certainly support that through the various apprenticeship programs and colleges and so on. We try to make it as female-friendly as possible, in terms of workplace.”

It’s because culture matters in recruiting and retention efforts.

Dietrich offers another example of that in the way CEO and president Wendell Erb still holds a licence and occasionally drives a truck. “He gets to experience some of the challenges that our drivers experience day to day, and he can relate to them, and help to solve them.”

The executive team also visits various terminals and meets employees during appreciation events like barbecues. An Erb Excellence Night banquet for employees and their partners offers opportunities to recognize accomplishments and achievements.

Interacting with employees

Every interaction with team members makes a difference.

Founder Vernon Erb was particularly good at sharing stories during different meetings and events, Dietrich recalls. “Unfortunately, he’s passed away. But we try to continue that legacy by sharing a lot of his stories, a lot of the history of the company, and people can really relate to that and really appreciate that.” Several articles that he penned are often republished in the company newsletter to this day.

The fleet founder’s heart condition was a major impetus behind a health and wellness program Dietrich established in his first year as vice-president of people and culture. Through connections made at a local hospital, an optional multi-module Highway to Health program has educated fleet employees about heart health, sleep, fitness, nutrition, sun protection, and other topics.

A health and wellness strategic plan was also developed with the University of Guelph, leading to various initiatives and visits by local health professionals to educate employees. Step and walking challenges, along with support for local charitable runs, keep employees on the move.

Dietrich also helped ensure medical and dental care was fully company-paid and available to full-time employees as of their first day on the job. Those benefits extended to family members.

He restructured the fleet’s safety department, too, establishing a safety and compliance director as well as a manager of driver training.

Future challenges

Looking to the future, Dietrich believes the aging workforce is the next big challenge for the trucking industry. Solutions, he says, will involve addressing reservations that younger generations have about trucking, and working to create more attractive job opportunities.

That will mean establishing strong teams with diverse skills and backgrounds.

“There’s so many facets to HR, that you can’t do it all yourself,” he says.

“The award that I won is the [Trucking HR Canada] HR Leader of the Year. But it, truly, in my opinion, is an award that the team won. I could not have accomplished – or we could not have accomplished that — without all of the team’s efforts and help.”

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