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Ideas to Improve Truck Driver Onboarding

The first week after you hire a new truck driver is make or break. It can be the difference between drivers sticking with you for years to come or leaving you for the competition within a month. That’s why creating and implementing a proper truck driver onboarding procedure is so important.

Driver onboarding integrates the new driver into your trucking company and improves retention, motivation, and job satisfaction. Best of all, proper onboarding quickly allows new drivers to generate revenue.

The problem is, most companies think onboarding is filling out paperwork and learning about your job. There's a lot to cram into a few-day period, and this causes orientation to turn into a scramble to get someone out on the road. Instead, orientation needs to be a warm embrace that makes drivers feel as though they made the right choice.

With a proper driver orientation in mind, you can prove to new hires that you’re the employer of choice. You can lock in your fleet of all-stars for years to come.

Think People, Not Process

Each interaction of a new driver can be seen as a net positive or a net negative. The goal should be to make each interaction a net plus, a positive weight put on your company's scale.

The driver needs to feel that he/she made a good decision to join you. That you care. On the other hand, boredom, confusion, lack of preparation, and seemingly impersonal relationships put a negative weight on the driver scale. This will send drivers running back out your door.

Companies create net negatives when they focus on “processing” drivers. We set up an assembly line to make things go smoothly but don't give enough “weight” to the people side of things.

Did you bring the right information? Fill in this form. Now fill in this form. Watch this. Don't do this. Did you complete the backside? Good, we're on schedule. Keep it up.

A busy staff tends to move from task to task. As a result, drivers perceive that they are “being treated like a number.” Staff members often get primarily rewarded for efficiency, getting lots of stuff done and crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's, and rewarded less for relationship building. Being empathetic and building connections takes time… it's hard to measure.

However, a great way to lessen the huge cost of turnover is to put more emphasis on relationships and less direct emphasis on reducing costs and making money. The money will follow. Businesses are people. The personal consideration that drivers are shown by those involved in orientation is key. To your drivers, your company is full of people they deal with every day.

Therefore, don't “process” drivers during orientation. Invest in human touches. Make them comfortable. Don't bore them. Don't confuse them. Don't overwhelm them with things that “have to be done.” Don't starve them. Do everything you can to make orientation and onboarding a positive experience.

Humanize Paperwork

We've considered how each interaction of a new driver can be seen as a net positive or a net negative. The goal should be to make each interaction a net plus, a positive weight put on the scale that weighs a driver's satisfaction with your company.

One of those positive or negative weights has to do with paperwork. Every new driver has to fill in a lot of paperwork. That includes everything from W-2 forms for payroll and I-9 forms to verify that the driver is a citizen to medical and insurance benefits, and on and on. Drivers are also asked to bring documents with them to prove their credentials. They're also asked to sign documents confirming that they “understand” and “acknowledge” all of the legalese presented to them so you can cover your behind in the future.

This process can be very boring and robotic. Here are some ways you can keep onboarding engaging and effective:

Automate Paperwork

What percentage of your driver onboarding process is filling out forms? And how many of those forms ask for the same information again and again? This isn’t how we do things today. You need to invest in an applicant tracking system.

Applicant Tracking Systems that allow you to automate this paperwork when the driver has to redundantly write in the same information dozens of times (i.e. name, address, social, etc.). Most of this information has already been captured during the application process – let's repopulate that data so the driver doesn't have to!

Who’s The Face of Your Company?

To your drivers, the employees who are helping them with onboarding are the face of the company. These employees need to be cheerful, helpful, and encouraging.

When someone forgets to bring a needed piece of paperwork, it's better to say, “Okay that happens a lot. Here's what we can do” instead of, “Didn't we tell you to bring that in,” or “You'll have to ….” or “You can't start driving until….” In general, position yourself as a helper, not an enforcer.

Frequently Asked Questions 

You need to anticipate questions and answer them in advance. Keep track of the frequently asked questions throughout the onboarding process. Train your employees on how to address these questions up front rather than letting drivers be confused until they ask.

Don't Overlook First-Timers

The industry has more greybeards than newbies, so if we want to grow the industry, we’ll all need to be hiring new drivers.

Relatively new drivers may require more help with paperwork. Know who they are and be prepared to give them a bit more help if needed.

Improve the Screening Process 

A pre-employment screening program, when implemented effectively, can speed up the recruiting and onboarding process and lead to higher-quality hires. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. When conducting a background check, make sure it includes all of the necessary checks: criminal history check, verification of employment history, and review of driving records. Streamline the process by collecting and storing this information in an applicant tracking system.
  2. Implement selective screening tools. You likely already have criteria for the ideal driver candidate — use filters, tags, and statuses in an applicant tracking system to focus on qualified candidates and avoid the huge stack of applications that aren't qualified.
  3. Rather than collecting different documents at different times, use an applicant tracking system to collect driver history, drug and/or alcohol testing, and any necessary certifications or licenses needed to perform the job.

Focus on Community Early and Often 

Effective communication is one of the things that drivers crave from their employers. Starting off with effective communication can be the difference between a happy driver who stays and a frustrated driver who quits. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Set clear expectations. One of the leading causes of driver turnover is unclear expectations. By clearly communicating your company's expectations, policies, and procedures, you'll be off to a good start. Make sure this includes information on routes, schedules, safety regulations, and any other important information.
  2. Provide ongoing training. New-hire training is a must, but many transportation companies don't think about how they'll keep drivers informed of changes in regulations, technology, and company procedures. Ongoing training can be a great way to keep drivers engaged.
  3. Offer regular check-ins. Some drivers like regularly hearing from their managers, others like to be left alone. Do they like phone calls or do they prefer emails? Get a sense of each driver's preference and personality and ensure that you're building communication systems that work for them.

Consider Remote Onboarding 

Let's face it. While trucking is still very much an in-person, physical industry, more and more workers demand remote experiences when possible, especially among younger generations. A remote onboarding program and/or remote training isn't for everyone, but if you're considering implementing it, consider this:

  1. Technology. Remote onboarding requires the right remote onboarding tools. This includes things like video conferencing, online training modules, and electronic resources to deliver information and resources to drivers. You'll need to make sure you have access to these and have the know-how to manage them.
  2. Remote Orientation Process. Does orientation have to be in person? No, not necessarily. In fact, you can build an entirely remote orientation process that covers all aspects of the job, including the use of equipment, safety, and company expectations. With remote orientation, drivers don't necessarily need to be available during the hours of orientation for an in-person session. Be sure to consider how drivers will be able to ask follow-up questions.
  3. Remote testing. Plan ahead for how you'll implement testing and assessments virtually, whether you're doing ongoing training or evaluating drivers' skills and abilities.

Embed Safety

Everyone agrees that focusing on safety has to be part of a good onboarding or orientation program. But the best way to incorporate safe practices is not so easy. It's certainly more than giving a lecture and then having drivers sign a document indicating that they “understand” and “acknowledge”.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Safety is not a topic. It's a value. In other words, safety is at the center of your business. It shouldn’t just be a topic that's scheduled from 9 am to 10 am, but rather a theme that's embedded throughout the entire orientation and beyond. It should be very apparent to drivers at the end of orientation that a commitment to safety is a core value of your company and not lip service. The top priority of the day should never trump safety.
  • Media (videos, slides, interactive courses) must be up to date. Nothing hurts credibility like outdated, boring materials. The implicit message with worn materials is that they aren't very important or relevant since no one took the time to update them. As you incorporate safety throughout the orientation, use current materials and keep them up to date with quarterly reviews.
  • Drivers with special endorsements already have supplemental education about their vehicles and the safety measures that are required. Reviewing it in orientation is certainly an important and valuable use of time. Instead of relying only on lectures, ask drivers to comment on “how it should be done” and summarize with the correct procedures. Get their input on things to watch out for and how to avoid problems. Having drivers teach the principles you want to implement is a key component of mastery learning.

Safety training doesn't have to be boring and repetitive. Look for ways to make it interesting and get drivers actively involved in teaching the concepts to others rather than being a passive audience. Embed safety in all orientation sessions and make it a supreme value.

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