Keeping products fresh during the driver shortage

Consumer Goods, Dedicated Transportation, Food & Beverage
October 6, 2014

“Recruit, train and retain” plan key for food companies

In an industry where on-time deliveries are crucial, the on-going truck driver shortage is causing even more challenges for food manufacturers, distributors, grocers and other companies playing a role in the food supply chain.

Driver-shortage-Ryder

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that more than 92 percent of prepared foods, including dairy products and prepared fruit, vegetable and nut products, were moved by truck in 2013. Anyone in the industry knows that a delay in food deliveries increases the risk of spoilage and could ultimately result in financial losses.

The driver shortage is one significant reason why trucks can be delayed.  It is estimated the industry will need 22,000 new drivers in 2015 alone. With driver turnover rates nearing 100%, drivers retiring and a low amount of drivers entering the workforce, the shortage could pose a big threat to the food industry.

The typical day for a professional driver includes an average of 10 stops, lifting hundreds of packages, rotating inventory, stocking shelves, providing excellent customer service and, of course, driving a truck. Having a driver who can complete all these tasks on a daily basis is key in maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The best solution for the driver shortage is to create a strong program focused on recruiting, training and retaining drivers. This will not only guarantee on-time delivery of fresh products, but it will provide customers with the great service they expect.

Implementing a robust recruitment program can be two-fold – allowing you to fill current open positions and build a talent pool for the future. One thing to remember is a food and beverage industry driver is far different from an over-the-road driver. When recruiting, you need to be specific about the requirements of being a food and beverage industry driver.

You also need to identify where you search for high quality candidates. One place not to overlook is your warehouse. It is very possible a strong employee who knows the company, client and products may want to become a driver. Hiring from within also lowers driver turnover.

The risk is high if you hire the wrong driver, as there can be safety issues, unsatisfied customers and lower productivity.

The second crucial factor to lower the impact of the driver shortage is to have a comprehensive training program. One of the most effective ways to improve fleet safety, minimize crashes and improve customer satisfaction is to consistently train drivers on key job functions.

With constant changes to federal guidelines and rising customer expectations, well trained drivers are able to handle the daily challenges of delivering goods safely and on time. On-going training is a small investment that delivers big benefits for companies – it brings more productivity and is a vital step in the retention of drivers.

With the driver turnover rate continuing to increase, driver retention has become one of the biggest challenges in the industry. It is estimated that two-thirds of the drivers who are leaving their positions are doing so voluntarily.

Among the many aspects drivers are looking for from an employer are predictable home time, fair pay and giving them the opportunity to have input on work assignments. Making a commitment to your current and newly recruited drivers is critical to having a low driver turnover.

This commitment should include treating drivers with respect, providing a work-life balance and providing safe equipment.

There is no question that the entire industry is facing the challenges of the driver shortage. In the food industry, having a program that focuses on recruiting, training and retaining drivers will help keep the products you are moving fresh and your customers happy. It’s a program that can keep food from spoiling and your bottom line growing.

Jorge Salas is Vice President of Operations for Ryder Dedicated at Ryder System Inc. He is responsible for managing a portfolio of more than 70 customers in various industries such as newspapers, food distribution, retail, and building materials. Ryder Dedicated helps customers manage their private fleet needs, and at times, the overall optimization of their transportation network.  

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