Magazine article HRMagazine

How to Build a Workforce, One Person at a Time

Magazine article HRMagazine

How to Build a Workforce, One Person at a Time

Article excerpt

Faced with a truck driver shortage nationwide, Con-way Freight develops its own.

Three years ago, then 24-year-old Duncan Smith graduated from State University of New York at Fredonia with a bachelor's degree in legal studies. Unable to land a job in his field, he worked part time with the U.S. Census Bureau and then in a steel mill.

One day, he read a story about Conway Freight's driving school. He applied and was accepted. "As I learned about the business-and especially how to drive a truck, which is really fun-I realized it was more than just a job. It could be a great career," he reflects.

Smith is one of 14,000 drivers employed by Con-way Freight. He and his colleagues are more than just drivers; their official title is "driver sales representative." They perform multiple functions for customers and are our front line in the competitive freight trucking market.

We aspire to recruit, develop and hire hundreds of employees like Duncan Smith and have established a long-range workforce planning process that guides us. What drives this need? Truck driving is a tough profession with a shortage of drivers. The job can be physically and mentally taxing. Not everyone is cut out to pilot an 80,000-pound vehicle on poor roads and deal with traffic congestion, severe weather and inattentive drivers. But it's a profession that some people have a passion for. And the pay isn't bad-some senior drivers make more than $90,000 a year, plus benefits and bonuses.

Con-way Freight is a Fortune 500, less-than-truckload transportation company with more than 19,000 employees across the United States and Canada. We move commercial freight for thousands of businesses of all sizes and industries. More than 85 percent of our workforce consists of hourly employees.

On an average day, we dispatch some 9,600 trucks from 365 service centers to pick up some 60,000 shipments. We pick up, consolidate and move shipments in our network, then take the loads apart and deliver to other customers. Thirty-six percent are delivered the next day and another 43 percent within two days.

In the long-haul side of the industry, drivers can be away from their families for weeks. Some companies in this segment turn over all their drivers every year. Con-way drivers are home every night. Yet finding the right people remains a human resource challenge with many layers.

Our drivers are held to high standards and charged with safely operating trucks that back into dozens of customers' docks. They are required to maintain excellent safety and security records in order to keep their commercial driver's licenses with hazardous materials and combination-vehicle endorsements. More than 1,000 drivers serve as "mentors" or subject matter experts for training programs such as new technology rollouts and safety initiatives.

Stringent schedules must be met, but safety remains our No. 1 priority. Every location manager has safety measurements reported on daily, weekly, monthly and annual performance scorecards.

Maintaining credentialed, well-qualified drivers and sales representatives is enough of a challenge, but our company also must continue to grow despite a national shortage of qualified commercial drivers. FTR Research estimates that by the end of the first quarter of 2012, the U.S. trucking industry faced a worsening shortage of about 135,000 drivers. The reasons include the following:

* Stricter driver safety regulations, such as tighter hours-of-service controls.

* An aging driver population.

* Rising operating costs for fuel, insurance and licensing and for independent operators.

* A deteriorating highway infrastructure system that increases highway congestion and erodes driver efficiency.

Rebuild After Recession

How should an HR leader respond to the challenge of building an effective, skilled workforce in this environment? I have had the good fortune of working in the trucking industry for 33 years in multiple roles, with the last three years as the HR leader at Con-way Freight. …

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