A sales representative who exceeds monthly quotas usually gets a bonus or raise. A TV or radio executive whose ratings rise may be rewarded with a promotion. But how do managers “rate” a truck driver who spends his life far from any office and whose job has no clear route to promotions?
Drivers are paid three ways: by the hour, as a percentage of load revenue and -- most commonly -- on a mileage scale. Scales that include incentives on top of base mileage rates can be difficult to administer, so some companies simply offer higher base rates than their competitors.
Though transporting hazardous material can earn higher pay, for most truckers the only way to make more money is to accrue seniority with one company and drive safely. For many, the closest thing to a promotion is a better route or a nicer truck.
Many Ways to Measure Performance
Ken Brown, president of transportation and brokerage company Birch Logistics, says that a safe driving record means more than not speeding and avoiding accidents. Drivers can be rewarded for avoiding tickets when their truck is overweight or has defective lights. A clean record on drug tests is also important.
Traffic managers also look at on-time performance when rating drivers’ records. Truckers switch companies more than workers in most industries, Brown says, so years of service to one employer can boost pay.
Truckers can be rewarded for professionalism, too. “Drivers deal more directly with customers than customer service does,” Brown notes. “And you can measure customer satisfaction.” For example, Birch Logistics helped one client set up a 1-to-5 scale for dispatchers to rate drivers, based on feedback from customers.
“Courtesy and professionalism are subjective and hard to quantify,” admits George Edwards, president of consulting firm George L. Edwards and Associates. “But it can be seen in repeat business. A driver who builds relationships with shippers and receivers and solves problems on the dock -- it can be bad packaging, a hazmat leak or whatever -- will earn repeat business for his company.”
Edward adds that the driver’s judgment when checking on the dock to see that cargo is secure sounds subjective, but such pre-emptive action can save a company from paying damaged-goods claims, and raises can be based in part on those statistics.
Promotions Are Rare
Though experienced drivers can earn extra money by training newcomers, there are few opportunities for pay raises through promotion. In fact, according to Brown, the perks most drivers look forward to are opportunities to drive the newest trucks and be assigned to the best loads, which can include more desirable routes, better schedules or loads with hazardous material that brings higher pay.
Some companies do promote experienced drivers to the role of dispatcher. “The pay may be better, you work in a comfortable environment, you go home every night and you don’t have to deal with the Department of Transportation every day,” Brown says. “But some drivers don’t take to it. Looking at a computer is a different kind of pressure. Some guys would rather be on the road. If they’ve got a new truck with leather, a double bunk and chicken lights all lit up like a Christmas tree, that’s a promotion.”
Maximize Your Pay
Drivers who earn the most money make sure they get along well with everyone they meet: customers, traffic managers, even other truckers. Perhaps the most important person is the dispatcher, because he assigns loads and schedules. Christie Cullinan, director of workplace and fleet safety for the American Trucking Associations www.truckline.com, notes that truckers willing to take routes no one wants are usually rewarded down the line with better loads or schedules.
Truckers who are considering moving to another company should examine it closely. “Ask yourself, ‘Is the company stable?’” Edwards says. “Some of them promise a lot, but they don’t pay regularly.”
Brown warns: “A lot of trickery goes into the advertising you see on the back of trucks. One company may pay more but give fewer miles.”
Equipment is another consideration. “Is it good? Is it well-maintained? Is the fleet aged?” Edwards wonders. “Trucks should turn over every three years. If you break often, you can’t deliver on time -- and that affects your bottom line.”
Brown says that one of the best ways to ensure you’ll be treated -- and paid well -- as a professional is to act like one. “That means speaking, dressing and bathing well. Be businesslike on docks, at truck stops, wherever you are. If you earn respect, you’ll also be courteous, on-time and safe.” All of which translates into more money down the road.