One panel member advocates electronic logging technology as way to reduce truck driver turnover; another calls for professional mentors to help develop the next generation
Jun 1, 2011 12:00 PM, By Rick Weber
NATIONAL Tank Truck Carriers President John Conley said that at a recent meeting in Dallas, he heard representatives from Dow Chemical Company and DuPont talk effusively about sustainability of resources — how companies can save and develop our water and air.
That got him to thinking about the tank-truck industry's primary resource — the drivers.
“How do we encourage our customers and everybody who deals with drivers to look at them as a resource we have to maintain as much as other things?” he said. “How do we get customers, dispatchers, safety people, and the media to look at drivers as a resource we have to sustain? How do we get out of the finding business and into the attraction business? How do we get these drivers to want to be part of an elite driver corps?”
To get some answers, he assembled a panel to talk about driver sustainability: Steve Rush, NTTC Chairman and CEO of Carbon Express; Dan Baker, trucking industry speaker, teacher, and consultant; and Lori Pavlish, who heads Global Supply Chain Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) and Compliance at Dow Chemical Company.
Rush, saying that drivers haven't had to “toe the line” in terms of the log book, is a big believer in electronic logging technology.
“We can't get this technology in our trucks fast enough,” he said. “When I first got into this industry, truck drivers were called ‘Knights of the Road.’ They were proud to be a driver. Today, they're afraid to say, ‘I'm a truck driver.’ Our drivers work in the most dangerous environment in the world. They're underpaid and abused. I know there are a lot great companies that don't abuse drivers, but there are still a lot out there that do.”
He said Carbon Express put electronic logs in its trucks last July after two years of investigation and logistical work. While the company did lose one owner-operator, drivers told him that it was the best thing he had ever done.
“Our turnover has gone out the window, and that includes owner-operators,” he said. “Most of the resisters in this industry are the fleets that employ owner-operators: ‘I'm not doing it until everybody else does it.’ You're dead wrong. Those are men behind the wheel, whether they own the truck or work for you in your truck, and they deserve better. It's time for this industry to take hold of itself and treat these men better. Get that electronic log and get it into your trucks as fast as you can.
“If I were a shipper, I would mandate that any carrier have electronic logs. I truly believe in it that much. It's the best thing that's happened to this industry. It tells your drivers you care about them and tells the public you care about them.
“It also teaches you how valuable those hours are. We've all read that an electronic log will give your more minutes in a week, but guess what? You'll do fewer loads. For the first time, hours are all counted. So that extra load you're getting in because somebody was averaging 65 but in reality was traveling 28 mph around the Beltway (in Washington DC) — those hours are gone.”
He said Carbon Express has virtually eliminated sleeper cabs. It has three left, and when they reach the end of their life, they won't be replaced with sleepers.
“When we started putting guys in motels, at first a few resisted because they were insecure,” he said. “Now, they tell me it's another great move we made.”
He said that some drivers might leave because of electronic logs, but they may be the ones a company doesn't want anyway.
“Put those electronic logs into trucks — and you can't do it fast enough,” he said. “Then we'll all be on a level playing field. The driver turnover, I believe, will go down. To those of you who don't (put in electronic logs): I'm taking your drivers, because they hear the word that we are on electronic logs and are 100% legal. They talk and they come to me. The good ones will come.
“You can tell that customer, ‘I can't get there because my driver is out of hours.’ You can do it. You have to do it. You have to do it for your driver and for yourself.”
Baker is advocating a new job description: professional driver mentor.
“Somewhere in your smaller fleets, you might need to designate a few of the best drivers to become at least half-time professors who get into the cab with new guys and teach, demonstrate, and travel with them,” he said. “We're going to have to come up with real-life, money-making drivers who spend a half or a third of their time on the road and hauling cargo. The remainder of the time they're building drivers. You cannot learn driving anymore by just being in a truck with a little orientation and then being shoved out there in the middle of this society we live in today.
“This new generation doesn't want to drive trucks, and they have no models because the old drivers avoid them if they can, and don't want to be around them. But if I'm a new driver and come into your company, and I run into a well-trained, compassionate driver who takes me under his wing, it's different. This is your baby-maker. This is a guy who can make people to sustain your business. Because when you run out of old drivers, you'll have to replace them with a lot of optimism and hope, good luck. You're not going to do well.
“These kids won't stay with you. Nobody taught them respect for authority. These kids were not raised with parents. They were raised with soccer moms. Their parents were associates. There no respect for, ‘You do this because I told you so.’ But a professional driver mentor could change that.”
Pavlish said Dow chemical has made a huge push for safety through the engagement on a preferential basis with Responsible Care partners. She said 100% of the company's core carriers are already partners or are going through the process.
“We want people to want to do their jobs,” she said. “We want them to be happy at work. Not clicking-their-heels kind of happy, but at the end of the day they've done something good and added to the process.”
She said Dow also has a safety award program in which the chemical company reviews the performance of its core carriers, who qualify with a certain number of shipments as part of “stringent criteria.”
“The last thing we want to hear is that drivers have to pull outside the gate of one of our facilities to check securement,” she said. “You need to tell us if you have a driver who has been asked to pull outside a facility.
“We have certain amount of influence, but the same rules apply. We get calls from carriers once a week or so, saying a customer is asking their drivers to do something they don't feel safe doing. Our process is, you tell us. There may be other unsafe situations, but our commitment to you is to tell our sellers about those accounts and have them contact customers. We have actually pulled business from customers. We take it seriously.”
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.