The terms driver qualification, orientation, and onboarding are often used interchangeably to describe a motor carrier's process for hiring or engaging new drivers. But those terms really describe distinct processes, each with their own unique purpose.
Driver qualification is the process of ensuring that driver-applicants meet the minimum (and any carrier-specific) qualification standards necessary to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Federal and state motor carrier safety regulations outline the specific steps carriers must follow, including obtaining and reviewing the applicant's driving record, medical examiner certificate, license, and employment history. The rules also establish the baseline criteria that drivers must meet to be qualified (e.g., at least 21 years old, physically qualified, etc.).
Confirming drivers are fully qualified before allowing them to drive is a critical part of the onboarding process, but it shouldn't be the only. In our most recent episode of Trucksafe LIVE!, we were joined by Hayden Cardiff (Founder and Chief Innovation Officer for Idelic) and Brian Runnels (VP of Safety for Reliance Partners) to discuss a more wholistic approach to the onboarding process.
Cardiff and Runnels offered practical tips for carriers to build out their orientation process to multi-step, multi-touch point engagements, aimed at fostering genuine relationships with drivers early on in their careers. According to Cardiff,
...one of the things that people don't often do well is the breakout of orientation and onboarding...the vast majority of driver turnover happens in the first 90 days across the industry. That's just a fact. And a lot of that comes down to these drivers getting a couple of days orientation, you give them the keys, you slap them on the butt, and say 'go make us some money.'
To counteract this, Cardiff recommends carriers connect with their drivers on a human level very early on. "You start asking questions around why they came to your fleet in the first place. What got them excited? What are the expectations around mileage, take home pay, routes...even getting personal information around family, pets, sports...." And then building those relationships through multiple follow-up communications over time. "Those details matter."
With so much talk in the industry about the driver shortage, it's time we start doing something about it. While recent legislative initiatives could help, it's unlikely we'll see any significant relief in the short term. So if carriers are struggling to hire new drivers, they need to start asking how they can better retain the ones they have.
According to Runnels, this isn't rocket science. Carriers should look into automating the qualification process as much as possible so they can spend more effort building relationships with drivers early on. "Make a good first impression . . . make sure the lines of communication stay open . . . and keep conversations in a positive light even when you're working through some tough stuff."
Be sure to catch the full episode of Trucksafe LIVE! above. If you're looking for help building out your driver onboarding process, check out our library of DOT resources as well as our comprehensive online training for safety managers and drivers at Trucksafe Academy.