“We‘re so technologically savvy now, so focused on efficiency and productivity, that a lot of times we forget about the human being behind the wheel.” -Dale Lawless.
Dale is hands-down one of my favorite sources when it comes to discussing the driver shortage and retention issues facing trucking. So when Schneider National announced a big pay package increase for all of its drivers this week starting Sept. 30 (and you can read more about that in the news portion of our web site), I had to give Dale a shout to get his thoughts on the subject.
An ex-U.S. Army staff sergeant (who still sports a razor-sharp Army haircut to this day) Lawless is president of LPS Inc. - a firm that specializes in hiring and retaining drivers for all kinds of trucking companies (you can reach him at www.cdltruckers.com by the way). With an Arkansas twang and an easy manner, Lawless boils all the issues about recruiting and retaining drivers down to what he believes is “the simple stuff.”
It‘s his belief that if you just show that you care about drivers, respect them, talk to them, and most important be upfront and honest with them, they will stay with your company despite pay and home time issues. Now, that isn‘t to say pay and home time can be ignored - far from it actually. But if a carrier takes the time and effort to connect with its drivers, pay and home time issues can be managed - meaning drivers won‘t jump the minute they can get a penny more a mile at the company down the road.
“What really gets drivers is the way they are treated,” Lawless says. “From maintenance up through dispatch, accounting, and administration, they are generally treated unprofessionally. People don‘t listen to them, cut them off, and ignore their problems. So is it any surprise that they leave the first chance they get?”
One of his interesting observations about this industry is despite how technologically advanced its gotten, driver recruiting and retention remains a major Achilles heel for trucking companies. Turnover still plagues trucking just as it did two decades ago and it shows no signs of abating.
“We‘ve done everything to improve trucking - except when it comes to the personal touch,” Lawless says. “We‘ve put all kinds of technology into the truck and on the trailer. We track them both, map more efficient routes, extract maintenance data, record fuel tax data and send it electronically, monitor idling and waiting time, you name it. But we can‘t attract new drivers to the industry nor retain the ones we have. That‘s because we forget there are human beings behind the wheel - trucks aren‘t automated.”
That isn‘t to say that all truck drivers are perfect, nor that with but a few words of encouragement they will gladly drive the streets of New York City in rush hour for free. Drivers are people, pure and simple - they are have different family lives and economic needs, different likes and dislikes. What works for one driver doesn‘t necessarily work for the next one. But that‘s where communication comes into play, says Lawless. If you talk and more important listen to your drivers regularly, you‘ll get a clear picture of what they need to stay put and work effectively for your company.