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Fleet manager-driver relationship essential to success

‘One can’t do it without the other,’ says PGT Midwest operations manager

Photo: PGT Trucking

Staggering data surrounding driver retention rates in the trucking industry is the force behind many companies making changes to improve overall operations and driver satisfaction.

In this attempt to make improvements, companies often look to emerging technologies as a saving grace, forgoing the traditional human aspect of doing business and potentially eliminating significant roles in their operations. 

While technology plays a significant role in the evolution of the transportation industry, moving toward enhanced efficiency, sustainability and safety standards, not all day-to-day operations should be replaced by it. Interpersonal relationships are still an essential part of a company’s foundation for success.

Combatting driver retention issues with intentional communication, relationships and investments

Communication

Companies can’t retain what they do not have. According to Tyler Damazo, Manager of Midwest Operations at PGT Trucking, the key to driver retention is establishing a relationship founded on communication, honesty and transparency from the very beginning.

The manager-driver relationship should begin before the driver is officially hired. An early relationship helps build better communication and trust throughout the driver’s career as personal interaction is a more effective tool than technology such as email or automated messages.

Sergio Villarreal, Manager of USA and Mexico Operations at PGT, uses what his team calls an “ops interview” as an opportunity for Fleet Managers to reach out to potential new hires and give real-time feedback for the drivers to better understand everyone’s expectations, adding that this process, “establishes trust and transparency from the get-go.” 

Relationships 

As a fleet manager, pursuing intentional relationships with drivers is key to retaining them.

According to Villarreal, Pennsylvania-based PGT also provides an enrichment program, revolving solely around the development of the driver — especially newer drivers (apprentices). The point of the program is to connect apprentices with mentors (experienced drivers) in order to help them grow and be successful. 

PGT believes this new program demonstrates the impact relationships can have on the future of younger or inexperienced drivers.

When it comes to the relationship between fleet manager and driver, the process of pairing drivers with managers can also make a difference. According to Damazo, PGT’s driver-to-manager ratio averages 25-to-1. 

“Some companies have a ratio closer to 100-or-more-to-1,” Damazo said. “We try to keep the number small. We want our managers and drivers to have personal relationships outside of moving freight and making money, and if the ratio is too high, that can be difficult to maintain. A low ratio also keeps managers from being overwhelmed and gives them the opportunity to focus on their drivers and to understand the drivers’ wants and needs without sacrificing quality.”

Villarreal also added that many PGT managers often conduct weekly, face-to-face meetings to encourage drivers to bring up any issues, request time off or ask questions. This gives the driver a safe space for discussion and keeps a line of communication open for future concerns.

“We want [our drivers] to feel comfortable contacting their managers any time of day,” Villarreal said. “If our driver is on the road, we are working as well — regardless of the circumstances.”

Robert Cowart, PGT’s Baltimore terminal manager, agrees that being available for the driver any time of day is essential — especially in the world of technology. 

“It is critical not to lose that face-to-face interaction despite all of the options we have to text, email or shoot off a satellite message,” Cowart added. 

Many trucking companies have implemented load-selection automation in an attempt to streamline the load distribution and give drivers more freedom. However, these platforms potentially eliminate human interaction and more specifically, the need for a fleet manager.

According to Damazo, PGT encourages technology for certain things, but other aspects of the business should maintain the human touch. He describes the fleet manager as the “advocate for the driver.” If something goes wrong, the last thing a driver wants to do is look at a screen or talk to a robot, he added.

“We feel that this type of technology allows too much margin for error,” Damazo said. “It may give some freedom to drivers, but I think it hurts the driver to purely work off the screen. Managers can see, do, and communicate things that technology cannot. Drivers already have a lot to worry about on the road, and allowing the managers to do the heavy lifting for their drivers is important — and something PGT prioritizes.”  

Investments

Growth opportunities for drivers is an essential investment companies should make in order to retain drivers. Drivers can find solace in knowing they have opportunities to grow their career where they are — such as becoming an owner-operator through a lease purchase program, something PGT offers. 

Equipment quality is also a major aspect to consider in the trucking industry. Its regular renewal and maintenance can create a better work environment for everyone, especially truckers, who spend the most time using it. 

According to PGT, the company invests in new equipment annually, including trucks, trailers and technology. 

“We invest in the future to help attract drivers,” Villarreal said. “No one wants to work at a company with old, out-dated equipment. When the equipment is good, the wheels are turning. When the wheels are turning, the driver is making money.”

PGT will be receiving more than 210 brand-new pieces of equipment over the next nine months, cycling out the older equipment and allowing for the majority of its fleet to receive new trucks.

Now is the time to join the trucking industry

Now is an excellent time to become a truck driver, according to Cowart. He added that wages, rates and volumes are at an all time high. He stated that there are currently 35 loads per every one driver. 

For drivers who are currently looking for the right fit, Damazo recommends they conduct individual research and talk to as many people in the industry as possible.

“Whether you’re new or have been driving a truck for 25 years, we try to give as many different perspectives as possible — operations, maintenance, recruiting and tenured drivers,” he said. “Drivers searching for a job should talk to as many people as possible. There are a lot of companies out there that offer a lot of different things. Make sure you do what you can to know where you fit. Weighing your options is critical.” 

Relationships are essential to a sustainable business

Human relationships are essential to running any business, especially trucking. Without people, the entire logistics industry would crumble.

With more than four decades of experience, PGT stands behind its core value of relationships. For them, relationships are important, and the company attributes its success to its people. PGT believes that at the end of the day, technology should not function as a complete replacement for human interaction; it should simply enhance the experience and merely assist humans in order to improve productivity.

“A robot isn’t going to call a driver and ask how his son’s baseball game went. A fleet manager will,” Damazo said. “Never minimize the relationship between a driver and their manager. It is so critical. One can’t do this job without the other.”

Britni Chisenall

Britni Chisenall is a sponsored content writer for FreightWaves. She lives in Ooltewah, TN with her husband, Garrett and her cat, Lily. Britni is a graduate of Dalton State College.