No time for cowboys
by Fleet Owner

Someone has finally said it. And it had to be said. It's high time long-haul fleets wave "So long" to the cowboy truckers out there and start seriously recruiting drivers who see trucking as a worthy career path - not a lifestyle that comes with a paycheck.

That's the contention of Duff Swain, president of Trincon Group, a consulting firm that specializes in long-haul trucking. Swain feels so strongly about this topic that he's authored a white paper that drives his point home that trucking will never cure driver turnover until it starts turning to a new breed of employee.

"Trucking executives must be visionary and meet their demands for drivers by improving recruitment and retention strategies now," says Swain. "The trucking industry has not focused on developing the career-minded driver."

According to Swain, 16 years of Trincon Group surveys of truck drivers has painted them indelibly with a profile that "does not define a stable employee concerned about a secure career and future." Indeed, Trincon found the dominant job-related personality traits of drivers who frequently change employers are "independent, non-confrontational, and defensive." If that's the case, no wonder so many walk faster than they drive.

Swain says this profile "does explain why many fleet drivers think the company truck belongs to them; [why they] are attracted to a non-regimented job environment rather than money; and [why they]will quit their jobs when confronted with attempts to regulate their work habits. Thus, most truck drivers make a lifestyle choice rather than a career choice, when they look for or leave a work position."

Whew. He said it, not me. But for anyone's who's been around this industry for any length of time, there's little to no denying he's right.

Swain's also correct in laying much of the blame for this at trucking's feet. "The problem surfaced as a result of industry deregulation in 1980," he points out. "Driver pay rates have been set by the market rather than based on experience and competence and drivers have little loyalty to a particular employer, since they can obtain comparable pay and benefits with any number of fleets.

"Previous and current recruiting techniques used by most trucking companies compound the problem," Swain continues. "Poorly targeted advertising, unprofessional interviewing, poorly defined or enforced qualifications, and inadequate entry-level training produce drivers who are ill-suited to meet challenges facing trucking companies today."

Not just the bearer of bad news, Swain has some concrete and workable ideas on how fleets can turn this issue around and finally get a grip on turnover.

"To solve the driver turnover problem," he advises, "the industry must recruit or create a driver who is security- and career-conscious, and self-motivated to increase their wage or standing in a company."

The approach Swain advocates puts several integrated strategies to work to create a "cadre of well-trained, career-minded 'professional' fleet drivers."

In brief, here are Swain's strategies:

Embrace human resource management. That begins with quality recruitment in accord with clearly defined job expectations.

Define a career path with levels of advancement from student or trainee through different levels of experience and skills.

Improve training by funding industry-accredited driver programs or schools.

Increase truck productivity as the only way to compensate for the increased costs of driver earnings.

For more information on Swain's paper, visit his firm's web site,