View source: Michael Freeze

Improving driver engagement and overall safety were on the minds of industry leaders during American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition on Oct. 20.

The first education session of the virtual event, “Employing Effective Driver Engagement Strategies to Improve Safety & Driver Retention,” dealt with learning how high driver turnover has impacted the industry, how to combat it and how fleets can build a strong safety culture.

The panel discussion was led by Idelic Inc. founder and CEO Hayden Cardiff and featured Ronnie Holland, director of safety for TCW Inc. and Gregg Troian, president of PGT Trucking Inc.

Cardiff led off by noting the staggering turnover rate of 84% and 95% at medium- and large-size fleets, respectively.

These are some of the numbers we hear year-in, year-out,” he said. “The numbers don’t change.”

Cardiff broke down those numbers further during the panel discussion, describing that up to 70% of all turnover is voluntary. These are instances in which the driver leaves for another company or the industry altogether.

Cardiff offered various reasons; however, he suspected that it boils down to a common theme.

“Drivers want to feel respected,” he said.

To curb those numbers, Holland touched on how TCW engages with its drivers on topics such as health and sleep apnea. Troian noted that PGT Trucking also tackles engagement from the hiring process.

“If you strive to hire right in the first place, you can have an impact [on handling driver engagment],” he said. “We spend a lot of time that to make sure that we are coming across honestly. We don’t sugarcoat this job.”

Troian said that extra time also is spent in the hiring process to gather some lead information such as learning the background of potential employees, experience in agriculture, or familiarity with the trucking industry to ensure the driver has an expectation that can be met.

Cardiff pointed out that communication throughout the organization is vital to retain talented drivers. Although, he explained there is a difference between “regular” and “quality” communication.

“You want [the drivers] to feel like you care,” he said. “You can help to remedy and fix some of the issues. Being consistent really helps.”

Troian explained that all new nondriving employees at PGT have to spend a day with a driver.

“You have to train your entire nondriver staff to understand what the driver is going through,” he said. “Because you can have a great fleet manager, a great dispatcher that has a great personality, but if the driver calls the settlement or payroll department [and has a bad experience], we lose it all right there.”

Another aspect discussed through the lens of driver turnover was safety culture and how to incorporate it in the fleet structure.

Holland contends that safety culture, when presented correctly, is a viable buy-in.

“Drivers want to be a part of something like that. Performance is the scorecard, but we are human and accidents happen in a strong culture,” he said. “Staying involved and making sure the drivers are part of the culture — they are the culture.”

Holland noted that TCW applies an in-house risk management system to monitor safety, and uses incentives and programs to promote safe operations within the fleet.

The group rounded out the discussion by noting driver engagement and safety culture has been slightly hampered by COVID-19. However, things are gradually returning to normal.

Holland said that the best thing fleets can do right now is stay engaged.

“Don’t let COVID change your culture, folks,” he said. “We can work from home, but we cannot lead from home.”