Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Management Disconnect in the Trucking Industry

I have noted a time or two that I have been in (and out of) the transportation business in one form or another for the better part of two decades. There have been sojourns in the hospitality industry and education along the way and even a stint in corrections "education." The transportation industry, trucking in particular, is always a fall back when needed (and when one can stomach it).

I have driven trucks, owned taxicabs, driven limos (yes I have a few stories), run local "hot shot," and have been, and currently am in, trucking "management." Not upper management of course, but down in the trenches with the grunts. Yes, the nitty gritty dealing daily with irate truckers, irate customers, sullen wash rack hands and mechanics, etc. etc. These folks can be enough on any given day to try  patience sure but nothing tends to be more infuriating (and ridiculous) than dealing with the corporate folk and their unrealistic demands and fantastic schemes.

Right now the emphasis is on "recruiting." The problem is that no common carrier that I am aware of is really fully staffed. Like with anything else, some firms are better than others, but none (that I know of) in the chemical transportation segment are what I would call a real good company. My firm of about one thousand drivers is only down around ten folks from this time last year. True, there has been a good bit of turnover (roughly twenty percent) but there has been a good deal of hiring to offset the loss. For the uninitiated, a turnover rate of 20 percent is not considered that bad industry wide. Some firms have close to a 100 percent turnover rate in the time frame of one year. That fact that we are only down eight or ten from a year ago should be looked upon as, if not near phenomenal, at least pretty darn good.

Of course it isn't seen in that light.  It is considered abject failure by the corporate types and their answer is that the company has failed at "recruiting" and its' cousin, "retention". Perhaps we have. For instance, a manager with our firm must seriously look a candidate in the face and tell them that we offer a ridiculously low training pay package (for hauling unbelievably hazardous products). We must let them know that it is company policy that a driver must be in training for quite a time ( usually regardless of experience), but we certainly don't tell them that when training is completed and they are working on "percentage" that 25 percent is not really 25 percent. We let them figure that one out on their own.......or more likely they are informed by the old hands of this little fact before they even really get going...Makes it a bit of a hard sell to recruit or retain.

Recruiting? At any truckstop a driver can pick up one of the plethora of trucker "magazines" that are all devoted to this recruiting. Who can forget the "Donco - Good for you. Good for your family" advertisements that were in all of them in the mid 90's? Must not have worked too well. Where is Donco now? You see the point? If a trucking firm has to spend any amount chasing the dwindling pool of drivers, then that company is one to avoid. Everyone knows this. It is no secret. When was the last time anyone saw an advertisement devoted to recruiting drivers for say UPS, FedEx, Kroger, or even The Evil Empire? What about Praxair, TriGas, Air Liquide or Amerigas? What you do see is the Schneider, CalArk, Prime, Werners' etc. etc. of the world. There is  reason for that.....

Our firm is now placing their hopes in our region on a billboard. Not billboards mind you but a billboard. Singular. We are gearing up for the horde of people who will be lighting up the phone lines just waiting to come to work for our firm. We are taking it seriously, there are forms to fill out and procedures to follow and it will be a flop. Oh we will get a few calls and maybe even hire a couple of folks as a direct result but, at the end of the day, we will  gain two and lose two (if we are lucky).

Problem is (other than the obvious driver compensation issue) is that these folks in charge of recruiting are young marketing, public relations, or some other type of "business" grads. It is difficult for a sorority sister to understand the motivations of a truck driving man (or woman) and they will miss the mark every time. These marketing gurus are not bad kids - on the contrary. Smart? No doubt. Decent folk? I'm sure. They just don't get it. That's all. How could they possibly?
In fairness, it is not their fault that they are in league with the devil (so to speak). They are people of job age and a job was offered. They do the best they can and are held accountable for the success (and usually lack thereof) of their grandiose plans. How can it be otherwise when the senior "leadership" of the company are  as visionary as opium eaters and live in a fantasy world themselves?They can not reach the trucking crowd. They simply misunderstand their psychology.

Incidentally, I casually asked a trucker what he thought when he saw a trucking company constantly advertising for drivers. He said it showed desperation. That was predictable and most think the same way. The exact same way..

Is there an easy answer to the trucker shortage that plagues nearly (but not all) sectors of the industry? Not sure. A huge leap forward in compensation is a start. One thing I do know is that most truckers want a truck that doesn't (often) strand them, decent home time, and fair (yes good) compensation. How hard is that to figure out?

Recruiting for a trucking company? Good luck with all that.


Jayhawk said...

As someone who came up from a steel plant into lowel level management, I can tell you that your management issue is not limited to the trucking industry. I had a general manager tell me once that I should not wear steel toed boots because I should "look a little classier than my men." I told him I would not look very classy with my foot in a cast, and that if earning the respect of my workers depended on what I wore then what I wore wouldn't earn the respect of my wrkers. He didn't know what the second part meant, but I'll bet you do.

His ideas of how materials should be arranged in the plant would have been hilarious if he hedn't had the power to make my life miserable trying to make me implement those ridiculous ideas. He wanted things to look pretty. In a steel plant.

Bartender Cabbie said...

In a lot of industries folks need to come up the hard way be it from the shop floor or the truck cab. These business school grads are often counterproductive and at worst, destructive.
More than one company has been damaged beyond repair by management that may understand "human resources" or some such but not understand the nuts and bolts of a business.

Jayhawk said...

Oh yes, it probably should be pointed out that those managers all went to college because you need to have a college degree in order to get the good paying jobs. I know the guy who wanted me to make my steel plant look pretty had a college degree.

Bartender Cabbie said...

a college degree in just general subjects doesn't really qualify anyone for much. Not even teaching. An "educator" must go through all kinds of new age rigamarole before they are qualified to teach. No wonder the schools are in such a mess.