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Trucker Drivers Request Manufacturers : Quiet In The Cab, Please

If there is one thing that truck drivers routinely comment as something they would love to either lessen or eliminate, it’s noise, vibration and harshness in the cab. Still, manufacturers consistently say that engineering it out of their products is notoriously hard to do.

Today, truck manufacturers are putting their sights on cab noise and engine mounts. Yet where improvements are made, suddenly truck drivers can hear every other squeak and rattle from other places in the cab.

Another consideration is that not all noise and harsh vibration comes from multiple sources. From tires to suspension and the drive train, there is still more to consider than just the cab and engine mounts. Fortunately, the industry is pressing ahead with manufacturing modifications that help reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

All About Tires

Take tires, for instance. Tire manufacturers have been experimenting with more aggressive tread patterns. Lug and open-shoulder treads, for instance, are often noisier than rib-tread tires. Rib-tread tires Rib-tread patterns prevent noise from making its way into the cab by eliminating any potential physical contact with it.

Where truck drivers generally feel the most vibration is through the steering column. By ensuring tires are balanced when a complaint comes in, fleets can prevent exacerbated wear and thus unnecessary vibrations.

Another area where vibration becomes a problem is around downspeed drivelines. While engine downspeeding is a great way to improve a reliable method for improving efficiency and fuel economy, it creates a challenge where unwanted noise and vibrations are concerned.

When the engine downshifts, torsional vibrations produced by the shift are transmitted through the transmission, drive shaft and axles. All this movement can easily be felt by the truck driver as low frequency vibration.

Still, the industry is hard at work tackling these problems. Dana, a driveshaft manufacturer, is producing a driveshaft specifically designed for downspeeding. They claim it has characteristics allowing it to be balanced to one-half the industry standard, thus greatly reducing its vibrational footprint.

Suspension in Mind

Suspension also plays a huge role in reducing unwanted noise and vibration. Not only does the suspension help to minimize road inputs, but it also helps limit vibration inputs coming from the drive train.

In general, when handling noise and vibration coming from the drive train, air suspensions perform much better than leaf spring suspensions. Four air spring cushions are ideal, though this configuration is admittedly less spec’d.

Outside of spec’ing the right equipment to begin with, always make sure the equipment you are currently running with is in proper working order. If you see an obvious defect, such as a non-functioning shock absorber or a broken spring, make sure it is fixed immediately. This is a matter not only of noise and vibration, but a potential safety issue.

Transmissions, Clutch and Axles

Transmissions and clutch axles also contribute to in-cab noise. To combat this, clutch designers have come out with new schematics that provide a softer dampening rate. They also have longer travel to handle the high torque generated by a modern engine.

To cut down on transmission noise, manufacturers are focusing on the high-frequency whining sound that comes from the metal-to-metal contact when the gear interfaces with other components in the transmission.

Vehicle specifications surrounding axles also impact noise and vibration. Consider options like overdrive and single versus tandem axles. Even recent innovations in gear manufacturing are resulting in a quieter operation across the board.

With all the recent innovations in truck design, does this mean we can expect a radical change in road noise, vibration and harshness? As the marriage of trucking and technologies continues unabated, only time will tell.

Engaged Truckers To The Rescue

Everybody’s asking the same question: How do we find and retain drivers? I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about it. Heck, we’re tired of talking about it, but that won’t make it go away; fleets need to hire and retain truck drivers faster than they ever have before.

The best way to do that is to ensure that perspective truck drivers are attracted to the job. And the best way to attract them to the job is to make the job attractive! The first step in doing that is to take care that you present a workforce that is happy and engaged – but how do you do that?

What is Employee Engagement?

Truck drivers are no different from other workers. They want to be engaged with their job. They want to know the work they are doing is making a difference, and they want to have a say in how it’s carried out.

Engaged employees have buy-in; they feel connected to the success of the organization. They work harder, want to succeed more, and are less likely to jump ship. Anecdotal evidence shows that employee engagement may be even more important than pay and benefits in retaining truck drivers.

A survey done in 2012 by the Gallup polling agency revealed that companies that were high in employee engagement routinely outperformed those who weren’t, in areas such as customer ratings, profitability, and productivity.

The fact is if an employee discovers meaning in his or her work, then they are driven by an internal fire to ensure that work gets done and gets done well.

Why Doesn’t Pay Matter?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, because pay does matter. There’s a reason why so many fleets are raising pay and increasing bonuses. It does have an effect. But that doesn’t mean it is the answer to everything.

Another study found that pay is actually of limited value when it comes to retaining truck drivers. This comes mainly from the “intrinsic effect,” which assigns internal motives for producing, rather than the “extrinsic effect,” which assigns external motivations for producing.

This study analyzed data from more than 70 carriers. It found that higher-performing fleets score high in areas that denote an employee’s willingness or desire to stay with the company. The areas measured included how the company evaluates employee performance, how fair the company is, and how secure the employee feels in their future with the company.

What Really Matters

The study asked four main questions:

  1. I am proud I work for (X) company.
  2. I trust the leadership at (X) company.
  3. The leadership at (X) company supports my success.
  4. If things go the way I expect, I plan to be at (X) company a year from now.

The questions were designed to gauge an employee’s “emotional anchoring” to their job.  It helps to better identify who they are as a person and what motivates them.

Things like loyalty, pride, and tasks that require discretionary effort and willingness, can all be gleaned through the answers to these questions. Everyone is paid to do a job, but those who are highly engaged will go above and beyond the call of duty almost every time.

The Roadmap

If you are having a hard time figuring out how to keep your employees motivated and engaged, you must consider some very basic principles.

Keep these ideas in mind when you are mapping out an employee engagement strategy:

  • Gotta’ have R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: If youre employees don’t feel like you care about or respect them, the first place they will head towards is the door. Treat them like an asset and they will perform like one.
  • Recruit for Success: You need to make sure you have your employee engagement plan in place before you even hire people. Immediately engaged people tend to stay engaged.
  • Communicate Clearly: Don’t leave your truck drivers feeling alone and isolated in the cab. Keep lines of communication open and constant.

While there are surely other aspects to employee engagement, from rewards to promotion opportunities, it’s how you treat people that really matters. The best way out of the employment crunch is to focus on engaging those that directly impact your bottom line: The employees.

Impact of Commercial Truck Drivers Shortage

It’s no secret that there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers in the United States. Truck drivers are retiring, drivers are choosing local driving positions over being on the road for long periods of time, and stricter regulations are taking many truck drivers out of the running for jobs.

Economic Impact

With fewer drivers to move loads from manufacturers to stores, businesses are having to wait longer for the shipments they need. This causes frustration for the stores, the manufacturers and the customers. This frustration is expected to increase as we enter the holiday shopping season.

Another issue is that trucking companies are having to raise the rates they charge for hauling goods. The increase in shipping costs is passed on to the customers who purchase the goods. According to a report by DAT Solutions, a company that analyzes and provides data to the transportation industry, the rate per mile that companies charge to haul freight has increased about eight percent from August 2014 to August 2015. It is now at about $1.80 per mile for long-term contracts between manufacturers and shippers.

Some trucking companies are going out of business because they cannot afford to pay the drivers as much as it takes to keep them from leaving for better opportunities. Changes in the hours-of-service regulations have meant that trucking companies must hire more drivers to move the same amount of freight. Smaller companies who are unable to increase freight prices often have trouble keeping up with the costs of driver pay and benefits, forcing them to close their doors altogether.

What Trucking Companies are Doing

Although there are some causes of the truck driver shortage that are out of the hands of companies, most companies are taking steps to keep the drivers they have and attract new ones.

Pay increases are at the top of the list. Drivers know that the shortage of qualified drivers on the road makes them more valuable. They are also likely to switch companies when they see that they can get thousands of dollars in the form of a sign-on bonus.

Truck drivers are also looking for more time at home, and companies are generally obliging. More companies are offering drivers the ability to be at home several times each month. Some companies are even offering their drivers home time every week.

Partially due to the shortage of qualified drivers, the American Trucking Association is actively facilitating military veterans who are interested in becoming truck drivers in meeting their goals. In fact, the ATA committed to hiring at least 100,000 veterans between the end of 2014 and the end of 2016.

There are so many factors that affect the driver shortage in the United States that there are no easy solutions. It’s likely that drivers will keep retiring, with fewer qualified applicants to take their places. This likely means that the prices of goods will go up to compensate for the necessary increases in driver pay and benefits. The good news is that high pay is likely to attract more people who may not have previously considered truck driving as a career option, and the shortage will likely be reduced in time.

It’s Time To Focus On Truck Driver Retention

You’re thinking we’ve talked enough about the employment squeeze. In fact, we haven’t. Until now the topic has revolved around recruiting and training, but what about retention?

Truck drivers love their jobs, otherwise they’d be doing something else. Why then is truck driver turnover still stuck at 90 percent?

As fleets try to stem the losses and prevent talent from walking out the door, all eyes have turned to truck driver retention. After all, what good is your recruiting strategy if you aren’t retaining your truck drivers?

Late to the Game

It’s no secret that the trucking industry has put a greater emphasis on recruiting and maintaining a healthy pipeline of applicants than they have on keeping them. You can’t recruit fast enough if you’re losing more than are walking in the door.

As a result, more fleets are trying to figure out what it will take to keep truck drivers in the cab. A recent survey by HireRight reports that 39 percent of transportation companies are increasing pay, while another 36 percent are doubling up on various incentive programs.

Unfortunately, it’s been a constant game of catch up. The survey shows that – although truck driver pay was up 1.92 percent last year – it’s only up 3.3 percent since the recession.

The numbers are even worse for dry van drivers. The average dry van pay today comes in at 37.2 cents per mile. Compare that to 36 cents per mile in 2008. To add insult to injury, when taking inflation into account, dry van drivers are making even less than they were in 2008.

Over the last few years there’s been a healthy number of pay increases from the smaller operators, but not much from the top-tier carriers – except in the flatbed market. That soon may be about to change.

Let There Be Bonuses

One of the easiest ways to inject some loyalty, either up-front or from existing employees, is through bonuses. It’s not easy to argue with a big chunk of cold, hard, cash.

In fact, more companies are moving away from across-the-board mileage pay packages and are instead focusing on various pay types and incentive programs.

Sign-on bonuses have been a popular tactic. For a solo van driver, some bonuses run as high as $6,000. Some flatbed bonuses come in as high as $7,500.

It doesn’t stop at sign-on bonuses, either. More companies are beginning to offer performance bonuses that reward truck drivers for great performance. Employees that maintain high levels of safety and compliance are often rewarded the most.

Ditching Mileage Pay

To pay, or not to pay, by mileage? That is the question. Even the United States Senate is getting in on the action with a bill calling for truck drivers to be paid by the hour.

One Louisiana-based fleet had a 34.5 percent turnover rate before they made the decision to pay their employees by the hour instead of the mile. While moving to the hourly rate took some adjustment, it wound up becoming a great source for employee referrals. It also halved their attrition rate.

According to a recent survey, almost two-thirds of major operators are experimenting with some sort of variable pay scheme. The problem is they simply don’t know what they’re doing. Without an understanding of sound statistical philosophy, fleets are simply making things up as they go along.

What Works?

Many pay and incentive programs get it wrong on the psychological side. For instance, plans that focus on positive reinforcement are more effective than those that focus on bad behaviors.

A bad plan might start truck drivers out at a certain number of points per month and then they lose points based on violations. These types of programs send the wrong message – that the operator has nowhere to go but down.

Good pay and incentive programs give truck drivers the ability to succeed, rather than fail. These types of plans will have a good percentage of employees exceeding the minimums. Once they buy-in to the program, it’s a race to the top.

In the end, no plan is going to work without the fleet solidly behind it. Payments should be effective and timely. Provided today’s carriers can find the right balance, retention efforts may eventually keep in step with, and perhaps surpass, recruiting efforts.

Is Per-Mile Pay Really Fair for Truck Drivers?

A new survey out this year finds that the majority of truck drivers prefer to be paid by a percentage split, and then by the hour, with per-mile coming in dead last.  As a whole, drivers who were paid this way reported being 31 percent more satisfied with their jobs than those who received hourly or per-mile pay.

In this case, what truck drivers want isn’t meshing with what’s going on in the marketplace. Today, per-mile pay dominates fleet pay structures. There are currently only a handful of companies that pay their drivers by percentage split. But is it right?

How Does It Work?

Per-mile pay works in several different ways. Here are the two different ways a fleet might structure their per-mile pay schedule:

  • Practical Miles: These are the actual miles a truck driver drove to get to the destination.
  • Short Miles (Direct Route): The direct route only pays the shortest possible route.

To put this into perspective, imagine if a driver runs a load from Casa Grande, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. Said driver gets paid 36 cents per-mile.

Unfortunately, they are unable to cross the Hoover Dam, so they must take the route around it, which adds up to 429 miles. If his fleet is paying him by practical miles, then his pay for that run would come out to $154.44.

If the his fleet is paying by short miles, then the direct route – across the Hoover Dam, which he or she can’t do – would come out to 360 miles. This would drop their pay down to $129.60.

In some cases fleets also employ a sliding scale mileage pay system. In this system, longer trips result in lower pay. A load that runs 350 miles might pay 36 cents per-mile. A 2,000 mile run might drop that to 28 cents per-mile, or less.

How Are Truckers Affected?

Another aspect of per-mile pay that is often overlooked is for work the truck driver does that he or she doesn’t get paid for. When someone is getting paid by the mile, spending hours waiting at a loading dock is time on the job that they aren’t getting paid for.

This also includes truck downtime, waiting at truck-stops between loads, chaining or un-chaining tires in the snow, or anything else that requires the truck driver to handle a job duty that doesn’t involve putting miles in the log.

A major pain-point between truckers and shippers lies in their warehouse operations. Any hiccup in their operation is soaked up by the driver at no cost to anyone else in the pay chain. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a truck driver to pull into a warehouse right after it closes and then sleep in the truck until they open the next day, just to be first in line.

Is It Fair?

Some believe that paying by the mile is both unsafe and unfair.  They believe that this model encourages truckers to speed in order to make more money.

Getting paid by the mile also prevents truckers from knowing how much they will make in any given week. After all, it’s hard to predict breakdowns, traffic, man-made or weather related delays. For this reason, many truck drivers report that inconsistent pay is even worse than low pay.

But if so many truck drivers prefer to be paid by percentage or by the hour, why aren’t more fleets changing their pay models? The simple answer is that they are reluctant to change a business model they have relied on for decades.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt exempted truckers from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Most state overtime laws also do not apply to truck drivers. Furthermore, regulations that protect pay, safety, and health often don’t include truck drivers.

The Case for Change

The fact remains that the trucking industry handles 67 percent of the country’s total freight by weight. While there are currently around 2.6 million truck drivers on the road, the nation needs another 35,000 at the minimum.

The shortage is especially acute in longhaul operations. There are several reasons for the shortage, but the fact remains: Fleets need to re-think their entire strategy, from recruitment to retention.

If changing their pay model increases interest in trucking as a career, carriers should look at how they can modify their current structure to make themselves look more attractive. Otherwise the employment squeeze is going to remain a hot topic for a long time to come.

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