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Advice From Ohio's Top Drivers at the 2019 OTA Driver of the Year Awards

While COVID-19 has grinded most of the country to a halt, the trucking industry carriers on.

The Ohio Trucking Association (OTA) held its 2019 Driver of The Year Awards in August 2020. Of the twelve finalists, Jeffrey Rose of YRC Freight took home the prize. Together, the group has over 200 hours of service to their current employers and over 30 million safe driving miles. These gentlemen are keeping America moving with one safe trip after another.

It’s no secret that we love safe drivers at AvatarFleet. We’re willing to bet you do too. That’s why we took a trip down to the award ceremony and met these drivers face to face (from a six foot distance, of course). We interviewed the finalists to learn what advice they would give to companies hoping to hire their next all-star and for folks entering the trucking industry.

Advice to Companies Looking to Hire Their Next Driver of the Year

The average driver we interviewed has been with his company for twenty-five-and-a-half years. If you want tenure like that with your top drivers, it might pay-off to listen to what these accomplished drivers value in a carrier.

When asked why they love working for their respective companies, a few common themes emerged: a safety-centric culture, a driver career ladder, and respect from leadership. These three components can go a long way in attracting and retaining talented drivers.

Safety-Centric Culture

“Safety training is paramount at our company . . . we have a good safety manager that backs-up any questions we have or issues with safety.” - Clint McBee, GetGo Transportation Co, LLC.

Nearly every driver interviewed mentioned safety as one of the most important aspects at their company. Whether it’s gate checks, updated and well-maintained equipment, or leadership that puts driver safety first, it’s clear that the best drivers want to drive for safe companies. Building a safety culture is a pillar of hiring and retaining a fleet of professional, safe drivers. These interview findings back our keyword research that show that professional drivers search for “safe trucking companies hiring”. 

A Voice at The Table

“I’m on ABF’s Road Team. They give me an opportunity to voice my opinion on the trucks, how they work, and the electronic logging devices. They give me an opportunity to spend time with our provider to make the equipment better for not only my company, but the industry as a whole.” - Brain Petrovcic, ABF Freight

All too often, drivers feel powerless. Their routes, schedules, and even paychecks can be completely out of their control. That’s why the best of the best appreciate when their company gives them a voice at the table.

Many of the interviewees spoke proudly of opportunities to have their voices heard and to give input on decisions that affect their work lives. A voice at the table can take the form of a driver committee, management duties, and training new drivers. Top-tier drivers want a chance to positively affect their company. It’s your responsibility to provide that opportunity.

Respect From Leadership

“My dad started out [driving] for Walmart back in 1992, and I saw how they treated him. Respect for the individual is one of our basic beliefs. So, I saw how they treated my dad and it made me want to go work there as well.” - Jason Imhoff, Walmart 

The trucking industry couldn’t exist without drivers. You wouldn’t always know it, though, based on how some companies treat them. In fact, lack of respect is one of the top three reasons many drivers quit. The companies lucky enough to employ the OTA driver of the year finalists consistently show respect to their drivers.

According to our interviews, drivers want recognition for their achievements. They want you to tell them the truth and follow-up on your promises. Sometimes, all they want is for you to greet them by name. Being an employer of choice for high-quality drivers means showing your drivers respect.

Advice to New Drivers

Trucking has been as good to these drivers as they’ve been to trucking. Every driver interviewed spoke highly of the occupation, and many mentioned that their only regret is not getting into trucking sooner. However, they also warned that trucking might not be for everyone. While trucking offers a great paycheck and consistent work, it’s demanding both physically and mentally.

When asked what advice they would give to someone looking to get into trucking, we received a variety of answers. Many interviewees mentioned the pros and cons of being an owner-operator versus driving for a company, and others pointed out the importance of just slowing down and enjoying your time on the road. Nearly every interviewee agreed on these three things, though: do your research on the job, find the right company for you, and find a good mentor.

Do Your Research on The Job

“Know what you’re walking into. It’s not a job - it’s a lifestyle.” - David Wolford, Continental Express, Inc.

Trucking is anything but a typical job, and the drivers we interviewed often discussed the importance of knowing what you’re signing up for. Long hours on the road alone and days or even weeks away from family can be difficult to cope with. It’s a big adjustment to people when they’re first entering the industry. However, as the drivers pointed out, if you’re able to make the adjustment, you will have a rewarding career ahead of you.

Find The Right Company For You

“Somebody who’s coming in new to the industry . . . they don’t know what they’re walking into. They see commercials and watch YouTube videos. Well, that’s someone else’s experience . . . I would recommend you do your research and find the best company for you.” - Daniel Clark, Classic Carriers, Inc.

Many interviewees expressed the importance of taking enough time to find the right company to drive for. Not all carriers are created equally, and working for a good company can make all the difference in a driver’s career. Some of the drivers interviewed went as far as warning about carriers that make hollow promises. They recommend doing your own research, hearing what a company says and not what you want to hear, and talking to other drivers rather than just recruiters.

Find a Good Mentor

“A young twenty-year old . . . getting into the industry, I would definitely find a good mentor. Listen to other drivers and people in the industry.” - Jeffrey Rose, YRC Freight

Think about all the people who have helped you along your career to get where you are. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a series of mentors at different stages in your career to move you forward. You have good people who reach out on their own to new or young drivers but there are many others who would as well if you showed them how. Your job is to create a structured mentoring program that shows your mentor team best practices. People want to be selfless and help others - it feels good. Build a regimented system of check ins and financially reward mentors for the tenure of their mentees. When compared to your cost per hire, the return is 10 fold and your giving money to your drivers, not Indeed.

Build Your Fleet of All-Star Drivers

If you want a fleet of Driver of the Year award winners, it’s not that hard. Listen to what the gentlemen value who have driven to the moon and back three times without an accident. They’re not asking for cabs with big screens and a kitchenette. They want what doesn’t cost you a dime and provides a HUGE return on investment from accident prevention and turnover:

  • Safety-centric culture
  • A voice at the table 
  • Respect from leadership

These are not earth shattering findings - you all have heard this for years from drivers. Ask yourself, do you really live those three pillars or is it lip service? 

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