A program to address the driver shortage gets positive results

Worrying together about the driver shortage has become such a part of every industry gathering that an alien might reasonably mistake "Finding and Keeping Good Drivers" for some sort of mantra or hymn particular to trucking. It's easy to imagine an extraterrestrial anthropologist safely back in his spaceship, reporting to his commander, "I don't know what it means, Captain Orggmorf, sir, but they all shake their heads back and forth and chant, 'finding drivers, training drivers, keeping drivers; finding drivers...'

In the future, however, fleets may be singing a different, more cheerful tune. A new driver recruiting and training programwas launched in November 1998 by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) Foundation, the Dept. of Labor (DOL), the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), the Pennsylvania and Tennessee trucking associations, and the work force development systems in those states.

Basically, the program recruits workers displaced from their jobs, trains them at driving schools with PTDI-certified programs, and places them in jobs at premiere trucking companies. The DOL is footing the $1.2-million bill for this pilot, which will enroll 200 dislocated workers before it concludes in April 2000.

Although the program won't be evaluated officially until it's complete, the results after the first year are very promising. "We've tested 187 candidates and graduated and placed 72," says William C. Rogers, director of research for the ATA Foundation. "To my knowledge, 70 out of those 72 are still driving." The "test" Rogers refers to is the pre-employment assessment test for longhaul truck drivers developed by Scheig Assoc., Gig Harbor, Wash. What makes this tool so useful is the fact that it was developed with the help of drivers recognized as top performers.

"The Scheig test seems to be a very good selection tool," says Rogers. "It helps us determine up front if a candidate would really enjoy and be successful at driving a truck for a living. That's important to this program because we can't afford to waste $3,000 to $4,000 on training someone who is not apt to become a good driver and stay in the industry.

Comments like this come as no surprise to Dr. Richard Scheig, founder and CEO of Scheig Assoc. "In every case to date, companies that have implemented our system see employee turnover drop. We've seen annual turnover rates go from as much as 150% down to 10%.

"Our system does a very good job matching applicants to occupations that require and reward their particular behavioral characteristics," says Scheig. "This means they tend to be solid candidates for job-specific training, and successful and satisfied employees once on the job. And when people are successful and satisfied, turnover goes down."

The Gallup Organization study of critical success factors in driver retention ("Empty Seats and Musical Chairs," prepared for the ATA Foundation, October 1997) suggests that this formula certainly holds true for drivers. "Rather than explore why truck drivers leave a company, this research explored the reasons why they stay ... Satisfied drivers equate to less turnover for a trucking company and for the industry as a whole," the study reports.

If the ATA/DOL/PTDI program concludes as successfully as it has begun, the industry will have a new driver recruiting and training template - a business model companies and organizations can follow, notes Rogers. This new model will bring with it a host of potential benefits, such as the ability to recruit from nontraditional driver sources with greater confidence, better results from training investments, and reduced driver turnover. And that really would be something to sing about.