Tara Meier conceded that five years ago, a conference panel about a driver retention program would not have interested her at all. The vice president of marketing and communications at Ruan Transportation, based in Des Moines, Iowa, would have viewed such a discussion as the purview of her employer’s HR team, not her own corner of Ruan.
But it isn’t five years ago, it’s 2018, and the focus on recruiting and retaining drivers has become part of almost every facet of the company, including hers. Meier, at the annual meeting of the Transportation Marketing & Sales Association in Cape Coral, Florida, discussed how Ruan’s marketing and communications team has become yet one more cog in the company’s efforts to avoid massive turnover rates.
The initiative operates under the heading “Great Place to Work.” About 80% of the company–which mostly operates in the dedicated sector–are drivers, totaling about 4,400. And most of them, Meier said, get home each day, so turnover driven by too many nights on the road is not as much of a factor at Ruan as many other places.
“That doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the driver shortage,” Meier said. “We’re really partnering with our recruitment and retention team to combat that.”
There are multiple parts of the GPTW initiative. An annual engagement survey has as its goal reaching 60% of a driver work force that is all over the place. “If we don’t have that, it’s hard to have a Great Place to Work program without their feedback,” Meier said. The most recent survey topped the 60% response rate, she said, and showed the highest level of employee satisfaction since the GPTW initiative began five years ago.
Meier said the communication part includes a newsletter, Ruan News, that is available both digitally as well as being sent to employee homes A shorter digital-only newsletter, DriveRed, supplements the themes in Ruan News. Taking the publication of Ruan News and combining that with other mailings–posters, postcards, etc.–Meier said the company sent mailings to driver homes more than 30 times in 2017.
DriveRed has a 30% “open” rate, Meier said, compared to an industry average of 20% for such email correspondence. “And the anecdotal information we get on Ruan News is that they love it,” she said. “When the spouses come to Des Moines, they all say thank you for that newsletter.”
The outreach has numerous other aspects. A driver of the year competition sees the winner come to the Des Moines headquarters to be recognized. A March Madness driving tournament is “serious, though we try to make it fun,” Meier said. “Our operations love a good contest and it really drives engagement,” she added. “The results seen from these tournaments are really good.”
A recent addition to the menu is technicians’ appreciation week, recognizing not only their contributions but the fact that shortages in such specialties as diesel mechanics is getting as acute as that for drivers.
The results of these initiatives? Meier said the turnover rate for the company at 21.6% was down 5% in 2017, and was at its lowest level since 2013. It compares to an industry average up in the 90’s though admittedly that industry-wide average includes long-distance truckload carriers where most drivers are not home each night, like those at Ruan.
Meier was asked about whether pay rates had been increased in 2017, as they were at most companies, but said she did not have the data. (This post on the Ruan website indicates that new pay rates have gone into effect recently.)