Early Driving Experience: The Link Between Orientation and a Veteran Driver

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If you have followed our research at Stay Metrics for long, you probably have heard us refer to the “Socialization” process for new drivers (see figure below). This process begins during recruiting and goes through several stages before producing a driver who is with a carrier long-term. Much of our analysis in the past has focused on the recruiting and orientation stages, but today I would like to focus on the early driving experience.

Chart showing the socialization process for drivers, including recruiting, orientation, and early driving experience.

What do I mean by “early driving experience”? This time period is generally a driver’s first year at a carrier. It consists of a driver’s first encounters with the realities of day-to-day work responsibilities. This could include things like a driver’s first week away from home or a driver’s first experience with each of a carrier’s customers.

This period is critical to a driver’s long-term satisfaction working with a carrier, but it has not, in my view, received the attention it needs. Our team has identified several challenges faced by carriers hoping to maintain driver satisfaction during this stage.

Truck driver with an iPad and his foot on the step of the truck.

Early Driving Experience Challenges

Dispatcher Relationships

As we have observed in previous studies, the relationship between a driver and his or her dispatcher is crucial to that driver having a good impression of a carrier. Often, the dispatcher is the primary contact and sole link between a driver out on the road and the home office. When this relationship becomes strained due to miscommunication or incompatible personalities, a driver is at a higher risk of turnover.

Trainer Relationships

Two truck drivers chatting and drinking coffee.

Very similarly to dispatchers, trainers are a key early relationship a driver has at a carrier. A trainer usually travels with a new driver, and they spend a lot of time together. If this relationship is strained, it can create an environment a driver will be happy to leave when they speak to a rival recruiter.

Unmet Expectations

During the early driving experience stage, all the promises a driver might have received from a recruiter meet reality. If there was any mismatch, drivers will start seeing it at this point.

Beyond this, though, it’s common for drivers to come into a carrier with expectations that have nothing to do with the recruiter. Perhaps they have a certain way they have always thought of something and think that some practices go “without saying.” Unfortunately, people usually don’t agree on what these things are, and so drivers’ expectations can sometimes be unmet by no fault of anyone at the carrier.

Given these challenges, our team developed several strategies that can help any carrier prevent these challenges from developing into turnover.

Early Driving Experience Strategies to Keep Drivers

Socialize New Drivers

Sometimes we run the risk of assuming that the socialization process is “automatic” and doesn’t require any direction from us. Nothing could be further from the case. There are many ways to aid in new driver socialization and increase its chances of success.

One of the best ways many of our clients are implementing this strategy is through a mentorship program. Mentors, like trainers, help new drivers get up to speed at a carrier. The difference is that mentors do not ride with drivers but, instead, serve as a neutral advisor. When it’s done right, the mentor not only helps the driver feel connected to the carrier but also serves as a sounding board for a driver’s feelings about their early experiences. A balanced, experienced response to these feelings can help diffuse the driver’s dissatisfaction.

Check-In Often

Young truck driver in sleeper cab with iPad

One of the worst things you can do for early driving experience stage turnover is to send a driver out of orientation and forget about them. These drivers are still unsure about how things will work at your carrier and will almost certainly have additional questions as they get on the road.

Create a strategy for your team that lets them know when to reach out to drivers throughout the first year. For example, your safety department might call a driver after their first week to see if they have any questions about your expectations and procedures. Then maybe have an executive call a driver after the first month to make sure everything’s going well.

A Second Survey Several Weeks into the Early Driver Experience

Different drivers have different personalities, so they respond to different forms of inquiry. Sometimes a driver may not reveal what they are actually thinking on a quick phone call, either because they are distracted or tired or any number of reasons. That’s where a formal survey comes in.

One of the key observations we’ve made on the Onboarding Surveys we offer at Stay Metrics is that having just the one data point when a driver first starts is not quite sufficient. That’s why we follow up the first driver survey with a second one several weeks in. This second survey gives us the insight we need to let you know how your drivers are doing with socialization.

The second survey also gives you a chance to see how well your orientation works for drivers. Not only that, you can see how well your trainer, dispatcher, and mentor relationships are developing.

Conclusion

Taken together, these three strategies will set you up for success during the crucial early driving experience stage for new drivers. I’m often amazed at how much of drivers’ satisfaction with a carrier relates to expectations and communication.

If you found these strategies useful, I invite you to read our Top 20 Opportunities for Carriers report based on the Stay Index for more in-depth analysis of these and other key areas for improvement to see the greatest increase in driver retention.

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