While the last several METRO Motorcoach Surveys have found that operators are having a difficult time recruiting, hiring, and retaining drivers, our most recent survey in January found that it is now having an impact on business, with operators now saying the issue has limited their ability to grow, or even provide some of the services they already offer.
While there is no magic bullet to solve the issue, operators are doing all they can to attract drivers to their operation. According to our survey, here are some of the ways fleets are addressing the driver shortage:
- Referral and hiring bonuses.
- Improved benefits packages and increased wages.
- Expanding or implementing Human Resources divisions.
- Marketing to specific demographics, including former military personnel, retirees seeking a second career, and younger generations who have fewer obligations and more flexible schedules.
- Hiring recruiters and headhunters.
METRO spoke to two consultants in the industry who specialize in recruiting, hiring, and retaining motorcoach drivers to discuss why drivers leave a company, how companies can better recruit and hire candidates, and most importantly how to retain those that are already on staff.
Why do they leave?
According to our consultants, drivers do not leave an operation for the reasons many operator/owners believe, which is for money only. After performing hundreds of interviews with potential candidates, here are the reasons drivers really leave an operation:
1. How they are treated.
2. They want to have more of a say/want to be heard when making suggestions to make operations run smoother.
3. The way they are hired from the beginning.
4. More money.
Mark L. Szyperski, president/CEO for On Your Mark Transportation LLC, says it’s simply not true that drivers will leave for 50 cents an hour more, which he says is what owner/operators believe. Instead, he says it comes down how they are treated at the operation.
“What we hear from drivers, and we hear it a lot, is that dispatchers play favorites,” he says. “Drivers will repeatedly get short trips, or trips they don’t like, while others are given the best or highest tipping trips, and when they voice their opinion they are viewed as complainers.”
Norris L. Beren, chief executive advisor for Risk Reward Consulting Inc. agrees that the poor treatment begins with the drivers’ relationship with dispatch.
“In most cases, if you were to hear the phone calls that take place between drivers and dispatchers, you would be appalled,” he says. “To be fair, if the driver is stressed it could be a two-way street, but you always want your dispatchers to be nice.”
Beren adds that the issues between drivers and dispatchers can be solved through training, including an improvement in how each call is answered by the dispatcher.
Getting to the second reason drivers are leaving is that their opinions are not valued by the operation.
“It’s the simple things, for example, if a driver does a write-up and maintenance just blows it off,” Szyperski explains. “They often feel like they aren’t listened to, and really, all they want is to be treated fairly and feel like they are being heard.”
“They leave because the fundamentals of the operation don’t match up with what the driver wants,” says Beren, who adds the issue begins with how drivers are brought onboard the operation.
“If we don’t align the fit of the company to the driver and his needs and wants, you have a misalignment in the perception of the way things should be from one perspective versus what the driver thinks it should be,” he says. “Operators have to train recruiters to hire differently, to find out what the drivers' needs and wants are in the beginning, so that they don’t get frustrated and leave in three to six months.”
Bringing them onboard
Beren says the recruitment and successful hire of drivers starts with the advertising or marketing process for the position. A big mistake he believes operations make is that they are selling the job, instead of selling why somebody would want to work there.
“Every company one way or another has a brand, and I want to capitalize on that brand,” he says. “I want that driver to hear something from a company that makes them want to know more about it. Not how many miles they will drive, where they are going, or any other of those mundane things.”
He also suggests starting a conversation with the driver upon first contact to get to know them as a person.
“I want to know what they like, what they don’t like, and what’s important to them,” he explains. “I also like to ask five questions that are going to tell me as much as I need to know about them to determine whether they will be successful at my operation or not.”
Those questions cover what they are looking for in a company, what will they not do, and what mistakes have they made in their career.
Beren also suggests handing the driver five questions to ask you while encouraging them to evaluate the answers to determine whether the operation is a good fit for them or not, which include what is it like to work at your operation, what money they can expect weekly, and why have drivers left in the past.
“What you are trying to do is build a different relationship,” he says. “The more the driver is involved, the more they know about the operation, the more the operation knows about the driver, then the more likely you are to have a longer-term relationship.”
Szyperski adds that the first thing an operation should do is to get its “own house in order” and make sure that its drivers are happy, which will ultimately help retain them. He says this is key because potential candidates are on social media hearing things about your company, most times without your knowledge.
“There are easily 20 different groups for motorcoach drivers on social media out there, and in those groups it is amazing the number of drivers that complain about the company they work for,” he says. “So, if they aren’t paying attention to what these drivers are saying and how they feel about their operation, the companies can recruit all day long, but in most cases they won’t get the type of drivers they want because they are reading all about their company online.”
Szyperski also implores operations to have their applications online, and suggests a phone interview to determine if they are qualified for the job before they come in for an in-person interview. He adds that when the in-person interview is set to take place, operations have to be sure to actually conduct the interview. Systems must be in place for a great onboarding experience, a welcoming orientation process, and training programs.
“Many times, we’ve had a recruit go to an interview only to be asked to come back another time, because the operator didn’t have time to interview that day,” he says. “Well, you don’t have a second opportunity, because there are too many companies out there looking for good drivers. These things are happening and operations are still wondering why they can’t get anyone to work for them.”
How to keep them
Building on improving how you recruit and onboard drivers, our consultants’ top advice for retaining drivers is improving the way you treat them.
“The driver shortage is an avoidable issue. Operations can definitely fix the problem, which is the frustrating part,” says Beren. “Everything we tell our customers are just shifts in how to do things and cost little to nothing, like improving how you answer the telephone and how you deal with people face-to-face. It really just boils down to two words – be nice!”
Simple rewards for good service or doing something unexpected can also go a long way to improve driver morale.
“It’s great practice to catch drivers doing something good and reward them for doing it,” says Szyperski. “Even if it’s just a $15 Starbucks card, it’s nice to reward them as a thank you for going above and beyond.”
In addition to improving the way drivers are treated, Szyperski suggests companies should form a lead driver/mentor program so that drivers can be heard.
“The Driver/Mentor program could be made up of a couple of good drivers who meet with top management on a monthly basis and listens to the drivers, and then takes action on their suggestions, if possible,” he says. Drivers can share their ideas, questions, and concerns with the Lead Drivers to share with top management. “If something isn’t possible, that group could also at least provide some sort of explanation as to why management thinks it won’t work, which helps to keep information flowing.”
Similarly Beren suggests periodic “stay interviews” instead of exit interviews, to get feedback from drivers and gauge how things are going for them. He also says that anybody who interacts with drivers should develop a third ear to listen for issues that make them unhappy, while being sure to address those issues before they become a larger issue.
Finally, from the list mentioned at the top of the story, Szyperski says that referral bonuses work well, because it incentivizes drivers to be out on the road and on social media talking up your company, rather than focusing on the negatives. He adds that it also goes a long way in influencing a driver to consider your company because they are hearing how great it is straight from the proverbial horses’ mouth.