The Theme for year's Truckload Carrier Conference (TCA) Annual Convention was: Our Driving Force - Trusted, Professional, & Proud. It was inspired by the idea that fleets need to find ways to show drivers that “we value their work and recognize their role in our success,” said Ray Haight of MacKinnon Transport, outgoing TCA chairman, in his opening remarks to the event held in early March in Orlando, Florida.

Doing this can lead to impressive results, he said. His company was able to reduce its driver turnover rate from 120% to 20% in a 2½-year time frame.

TCA is the only national trade association whose collective sole focus is the truckload segment of the motor carrier industry. That segment represents the largest section of the trucking industry, with carriers moving more than nine billion tons of freight each year.

The convention took on a wide variety of topics, concerns, and issues, from the economy to business conditions to government regulation. There was a large exhibition of equipment, software, technology products, and services, along with numerous workshops and breakout sessions on carrier operations, business planning and strategy, human resource matters, and driver issues.

Retention strategies

Haight said that of all the steps MacKinnon Transport took to retain drivers, the real key to success was treating drivers with integrity and honesty.

In surveying drivers, company management learned that drivers wanted three chief things from the company.

“They wanted us to be consistent with them in our dealings,” Haight said. “They wanted to be informed as to what direction the company was headed. And they wanted to see accountability to show that we were concerned with them and their communities' safety.

“Establishing and deciding to conduct all our business dealings inside and outside our building to this set of values was the single most important thing to happen to our business. It is the single most critical contributor to our success over the years.”

He said that “the basis of all good human relations efforts is quite simple. People stay in situations they like and feel comfortable in, and they leave those that they do not like. Their core values have to match your company's. You can build an entire retention strategy around that simple thought.”

If fleets focus on quality and integrity, and make it a cornerstone of their operation, they will get quality and integrity.

“Don't settle for less,” he said. “Turnover can be managed. It doesn't have to be looked on as an unavoidable evil of this industry. This is a disgusting theory that we have talked ourselves into. We need to start treating this industry and the people who choose to spend their lives in it with a great deal more respect than they have seen from us during our most recent past.”

Over the past few decades, the trucking industry has done itself a “significant injustice” by not paying attention to where and how drivers and owner-operators were being recruited from. Lowered standards “has been broadly accepted as the major reason for our abysmal record of turnover.

“I know that to some of you this might sound like an old tired rant because we are currently not seeing the turnover we have over the past because of the economy. But anyone with any foresight whatsoever knows that in fact we haven't cured anything. When this economy does turn around, if we're not careful, we will be right back to where we were just a few quarters ago.

“Don't just hire a warm body that can steer.”

Past year

In reviewing his term as TCA chairman, Haight said the organization's scholarship program raised enough money last year to fully fund all 26 scholarships for 2008-2009 school year, and is already off to a good start for the next school year.

The Highway Angel program continues to grow and is doing a “terrific job” raising its public profile.

“Press releases extolling the heroics of our Angels are being distributed to a wider and more diverse array of media outlets and government offices than ever before,” he said.

The program focuses on improving the public's image of truck driving as a profession, and recognizes drivers for their good deeds, plus helps them feel better about themselves and their professions.

Haight reminded attendees that the TCA is “a great educational resource” and can help with answers or training in any area of a trucking company. It also focus on the legislative issues affecting the truckload sector.