The Benefits Of Staying With Your Starter Company Beyond One Year

by G-Town

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I am in total support of staying with your so called “starter-company” beyond the first year. This is a novel concept, right? For some that's probably true. I can just imagine all the jeers and hate mail we'll receive on this.

But stop for a moment to logically think about it. Most companies expect the majority of entry-level drivers, either hired fresh out of school, or “wide-eyed and bushy-tailed” off the trainer's truck, to quickly fail or quit. They expect a very high failure rate. Statistics support the premise that most won't make it past the first 90 days of running solo. This is why we constantly insist on doing everything possible to separate yourself from the masses of under achievers and advance to the top 10% of new drivers.

Jokes have been made about the attrition level, centering specifically but unfairly on one particular company. However it's very safe to say that the attrition rate for new drivers applies to every carrier equipped to hire and train newbies. It's a reality of the industry that most new drivers fail to realize. It's important to accept this basic fact and approach your expectations realistically. You'll be treated fairly and you'll be given an opportunity to succeed; that you can expect.

Moving On To Greener Pastures?

Admittedly I chuckle a bit whenever I read a new member claiming how they plan to stay with their first company for one year and then move onto greener pastures. This idea is rather naive, at times borderline comical. It's a paradigm influenced primarily by shallow, misguided Internet content that is often considered factual.

Unfortunately it's a myth. The truth is; most folks beginning this journey cannot clearly define “what” the greener pastures are and completely overlook that only 1 in 10 will make it to the 1 year point. It's a humbling journey.

My Early Days In Trucking

Case in point; some 5 years ago now, my first day running Walmart Dedicated for Swift Transportation, I was assigned to a mentor/coach. It is an informal over-sight role designed to supplement the Driver Leaders. My Coach was a senior, Platinum Level, experienced driver (5 y+ years of Walmart Experience) charged with watching out for me and helping me learn the account, understand the Walmart trip paperwork, and avoid making costly mistakes.

I will never forget what he said to me after a brief but professional introduction. He nervously snickered and stated; “Please forgive me, honestly I am not really good with names because 90% of the new drivers assigned to me are gone after 3 months. So I quickly forget their names, their faces and you'll likely forget mine.

Boom…the first reality check hit me. I'm just another face in a crowded room of wannabe's? How is that possible?

Here I was really excited about running Walmart, and this guy just empties both barrels and fires off a hard truth I wasn't aware of at that point. Not having the benefit of Trucking Truth at the time, I was naïve to the ways of the industry and the daunting prospect of likely failure. I pressed on, trying not to dwell on his initial words. But they stuck with me, perhaps motivating me to prove him wrong.

Fast forward, about 4 months later, and I came across him one day. He said; “I think I need to remember your name now.” I replied, “Just call me 10%.” Dave replied with the same snicker. Remember that name; Dave.

Fortunately for me, I prevailed (probably a strong word, survived is more applicable). And he eventually did remember my name as something more specific than just “Driver” (initially he used that to address me) and I also remembered his name and stopped calling him “Chief”. We have become friends and although he is now working as a Walmart Private Fleet Driver (more on that later, it's the “big finish”) we still manage to cross paths on occasion and talk about most things non-trucking.

So getting back to the topic at hand, why stay with your first company beyond the first year. Well...why not? Why not give your current company a chance to show you what it's like to beat the odds and conquer the deck that was “stacked against you”. I believe the WIFM factor here (What's-In-It-For-Me), is much greater than most new drivers, students and “still thinkin' about it folks” realize. Unless you commit to your employer beyond the first year you may never know what makes them great or just how great they can be for you.

Making A Name For Yourself

Although I work for Swift and I've been on the same account for quite some time, my overall experience is very similar to Brett, Old School, Rainy, Errol, Susan, Daniel B, Patrick, Turtle, GladHand, Ernie, Big Scott and many others that I probably missed (sorry). As any new driver eclipses the 6 month point, encroaching on the magical first year of tenure; with any company things begin to change.

Behold! They remember you! They understand and appreciate your work ethic, attitude, and communication style. They trust you to get the job done every time without fail. But to clarify, this occurs only to those proving they can operate safely and efficiently; having a strong work ethic, positive attitude, and focused on top performance.

For the purpose of this article let's assume that to be true. And if it's not, I'd suggest that changing companies will not produce a better outcome anyway. It just won't. The history of poor performance tends to follow a driver from job to job to job.

The number one reason to continue with your first company is what I will refer to as "Return-On-Investment", or ROI. “ROI” is at times an over-used and highly misunderstood term (cliché') used in the business world. C-level executives like those captaining our employees use this concept in making strategic decisions requiring a large outlay of money. Like turning over the aging tractor fleet as a very obvious example.

It is however occasionally subjective tossed about by over-zealous salesman in need of making their number. Alas, for this discussion it's all about the driver (you) receiving a positive return on your investment; your sweat equity, your training success, your conquering of the mountainous learning-curve, your consistent dedication to safety, and your effort in building that symbiotic, “give and take” relationships with Driver Management. All of those things are worth something, having value that wasn't handed to anyone, but earned. We'll call it “ROYI”; Return On Your Investment, because that's what this is and can be.

At the one year mark you are no longer just a number or risk factor on a dashboard. You are a producer, making a profit (hopefully) for your company. This is key, and it's also your employer's ROI. At the one year point a new driver should be maximizing profitability on the freight they are moving, establishing dependability, and enabling the planners to schedule future loads in advance of your empty-call. No more getting lost, wasting time learning how-to back, fumbling with the Qualcomm or blowing up your clock due to inexperience. All of that should be in the past, quickly disappearing in your mirrors. At the one year point both you and your company begin to reap the benefit of the combined efforts. Celebrate the “ROYI”…!

So what can be expected after the first successful year if you commit to your initial employer?

Potential for Better Pay

I'll preface this by saying, this is NOT a Swift commercial or recruiting tactic. This applies for every reputable trucking company designed to train entry level drivers. At Swift (cause that is what I know), we receive annual salary increases and bonus pay. Every year, there is a bump in pay. The bonus pay can only be maximized if a driver continues beyond year one.

Performance is cumulative. For instance; when I started on the Dedicated Walmart Account I was making a flat rate of $187.00 per day for every day of dispatch, nothing more. After 3 months I was switched to a cent per mile (CPM) pay of 46 cents, which additionally included a flat dispatch fee ($20) and stop pay ($15 for each stop after the first).

More than years later my base salary is 53 CPM. Include the quarterly bonus and it equites to about 57-58 CPM. I am also paid to do other things like moving trailers, shuttling tractors in need of repairs, and helping drivers with problems when the Driver Leaders are swamped. If I changed companies every year, I seriously doubt I'd be at the same level for several reasons. It takes time to earn higher pay, earn trust, prove your professionalism, and "learn the ropes” so-to-speak no matter what company you work for.

You Become A Favored Driver

Oh Man, this is a big one! Wait, is that fair? YES and it's absolutely part of every trucking company's culture. It's not in the Handbook, or documented in a Policy & Procedure manual, but it's real and it's there like the invisible elephant in the room. They'll never admit it, so don't expect anything more than a subtle discussion about it. But the best drivers get the best treatment.

Your Dispatcher , Planner or Driver Leader is also evaluated on their performance, just like drivers are. Never forget that basic fact. We can help them make more money! They favor their Best drivers because it benefits them financially. Our companies are in business to make money and earn a profit. We are all compensated in a way that lines up with that business objective. A driver can add or subtract from those numbers. It's a simple concept that cannot be ignored or taken for granted.

The top performing drivers are definitely favored. They are the chosen few that have risen to the top of their ranks because it is of great benefit to the Company (ROI again). How does this happen? Again we'll assume you are doing everything necessary to be a top performer.

For starters, it takes time to reach that "Favored Driver Status." It will not happen overnight. It may take more than a year to truly experience this. And unfortunately many new drivers, perhaps due to impatience or getting career advice from the wrong people, or an inability to self-evaluate and constantly improve, never realize this status because they do not give it enough time at one employer. They hastily succumb to the “Greener Pasture Myth” and move on. It's a pattern, a vicious cycle that pervades throughout the trucking industry. If you don't believe me on this, spend some time reading our trucker's forum. You'll see patterns that frequently repeat themselves and the situation becomes predictable the moment we read their introductory post.

A simple yet compelling example of the benefits of being a Favored Driver; I am frequently asked what store I want to run to when the loads come out for the next day. Sometimes they ask during a call or they will send me a Qualcomm message, but it does happen. Sometimes I will call and ask what's available.

On the surface it may seem like nothing, but there are Walmart runs that maximize earning potential because the stores along the route are all less than one mile from an Interstate and/or there is an easy backhaul clipped-on as the last stop. To maximize earning potential, clock management is very critical. You have to minimize the time spent completing multiple complex store stops.

To be clear this did not occur during my first year, and it was my Driver Leader (now a good friend) that offered me a tip to call-in if I want something specific, or if I want to run light runs or long runs, etc. After all of the bumps and scrapes and puckered moments, this status was well deserved and I leveraged it to my advantage.

Your Opinion & Input Matters

Does it? When has your Driver Leader or dispatcher asked you in confidence, “What do you think?” or “What would you do in this situation?” Maybe this isn't important to you, maybe it is. However, it phenomenal when it happens to you for the first time, and it will.

Your opinion matters very little until you have consistently proven you are a top performing driver. Once beyond the first year of successful and safe driving, your opinion matters a great deal. Why? It's simple:

  • Confidence
  • Respect
  • Trust

Your opinion matters in very specific areas because you have proven that you can get the job done and your knowledge and experience have tremendous value to your employer. Again, this is earned, but like Favored Driver status it takes TIME to earn the chance to have a say in what goes on and to be taken seriously. Although I do suggest some discretion; pick your spots and be professional about voicing your opinion.

An example of giving input that matters occurred to me late last month when I returned to the distribution center with a backhaul of water. Once I hit the security guard shack and issued MAC-5 on the Qualcomm indicating “Arrived at Final Destination” I was called to assist a new driver on fueling his reefer. I parked near the shop and made the short walk to the fuel bay.

I asked what the problem was and he said, “The pump will not work.” Long-story short, fueling the Walmart reefers requires information be entered into the pump by the driver if the electronic collar found on the neck of the fuel tank is either missing (from the older units) or malfunctioning. It's not all that common, but it happens.

I instructed him on how to get the required information from the reefer unit's main control panel and enter it into the fuel pump. Out of respect I asked the guy if there was anything else I could do for him. He asked about scaling the load at the gate and following store directions on the trip sheet. All told about a 5 minute conversation unfolded with him. I offered my cell number and off he went. Original mission accomplished and a little more, but I thought nothing of it.

I proceeded to spot my loaded trailer and went to turn in the paperwork. To my surprise I got a big thank you for helping the guy out and an extra $10.00 added to the day's pay. Your opinion and input becomes that much more valuable as your successful company tenure increases.

Opportunities

The larger carriers like Swift, Schneider National, Prime Inc, and US Xpress (to name a few) have a variety of opportunities available to their drivers that typically require a bit more experience and seasoning.

Tanker jobs, Retail Dedicated Accounts, and Heavy-Haul are the obvious jobs typically not offered or recommended to rookies, but there are others. Even so, many choice trucking jobs (in the eyes of the beholder) require 2 years or more of safe and efficient driving experience. There is tremendous merit when you apply to a company and you can provide two years of safe and efficient driving experience with a single company.

Remember, trucking is a Performance Based Business, yes spelled with a capital “P” to emphasize the importance. The top drivers get the best jobs that require a minimum of two years of experience. A prospective employer will look more favorably at a candidate who gained their two years or more with the same company. Trust me, in my experience this can make a very big difference and elevate a candidate above a 3 year job hopper.

The Last Hoorah

Here are my final thoughts, the exclamation point supporting the premise of staying with your first company beyond one full year. Recall my interaction with “Dave”, my initial mentor on the Walmart account? The reason he was hired as a Walmart Private Fleet Driver (WMPF) was because of his 4 years of exceptional performance on the account as a Swift driver.

Walmart had full access to Dave's performance record while he was a Walmart Dedicated Swiftie. Although WMPF requires at least 30 months accident free experience as an entry qualification, Dave's experience gave him a huge advantage when he decided to apply. In fact he knew they'd hire him before applying because they had already asked him if he wanted to drive for them.

I saw him the other day and he is doing just fine. If not for Dave sticking with his first company, the one he trained with, beyond his first year he would have had a much lower chance of landing his current job at WMPF.

And so my jab at the “Starter Company” haters...is it any wonder why I snicker when I hear the Swift jokes? Or for that matter any of the myriad of jokes about starter companies? In the case of my friend Dave and to a lesser extent me, it's called the last laugh. And just to be crystal clear, Swift is not the only transportation Partner of Walmart capable of “feeding” drivers to their Private Fleet. This same exact scenario occurs with Schneider, JB Hunt, Werner, US Express, Prime, etc.

Hopefully my experiences give everyone something to think about. A different perspective on what is possible if you give it time. Hopefully others will chime in with supporting stories. The drivers on our forum who are beyond their first year; Rainy, Patrick, Big Scott, Turtle, Errol, Brett, Susan, and of course resident retro-driver Old School.

And yes, it's likely we'll also hear contrary replies; the cry of the many unable to quite grasp this concept. But that's okay…it's a forum encouraging all replies, designed so we learn from everyone's experience.

Cheers all...To the “ROYI, Beyond The First Year.”

We'd love to hear your opinions! Join us here in the forum for a discussion we're having about this article:

Article Discussion: The Benefits Of Staying With Your Starter Company Beyond One Year

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Qualcomm:

Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

Interstate:

Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Fm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

CPM:

Cents Per Mile

Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

EPU:

Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

by Brett Aquila

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