What if we train our drivers and they leave?
May 4, 2021
I'm working on a series of articles that reviews the assumptions and myths about drivers and how damaging they can be. As part of the research for that, I came across this article. It was originally published a little over 5 years ago, but since it's still applicable today I thought it would serve as a good opening for the series.
Ah yes, that old chestnut that rears its head every once in a while to annoy me! I know I'm not alone on this - every service provider in the risk management business has heard it at some point as well, and we all hate it.
The conventional, witty-but-thought-provoking response is "what if you don't train them and they stay?" but I don't like that much better.
There are a bunch of reasons why both the question and the witty response get under my skin, so I thought I'd use this space to go through them. I hope you never get asked this question, but if you do maybe some of these will help.
Reason #1: Both the initial question and the response are patronizing to drivers
The assumption that drivers are going to suck up all this great expensive training then immediately bolt to another company demonstrates a pretty low opinion of drivers. The response, suggesting that drivers who don't receive training are bozos that will just ruin the company, shows an equally low opinion.
Reason #2: Why would they leave?
The question is worded to suggest that drivers aren't already leaving, and there will be a flood of exits after implementing training programs. But if you provide a good workplace experience and invest in continued professional development for your staff, why would that increase the number of exits?
Reason #3: Your drivers are leaving already
As noted above, the wording of the question suggests that drivers will start leaving after this training investment is made. However, my experience has been that the fleet execs who ask questions like this generally aren't focused on providing a great workplace, and they have high turnover already. Investing in training isn't going to magically fix that (good people don't stick around bad workplaces) but it's a start. Drivers may still quit, but if you're investing in them (and treating them decently) they'll likely be quitting in smaller numbers.
Reason #4: So what if they do?
If a few drivers might leave after you invest in training, does that mean you shouldn't do it? That seems like a pretty poor foundation for decision making. It would be much more productive to look at the larger picture and decide whether the decision is right for the business over the long term rather than worrying about a few minor impediments that might come up.
Reason #5: Do you really want those drivers who quit?
If you provide a good workplace experience and invest in the continued growth of your staff, and people leave anyway, maybe the problem isn't you. There are some people who just aren't a good fit and won't be happy no matter what you do, so if those people leave then your business is likely better off as a result.
Reason #6: Do you ask that question about anything else?
Replace 'training' in the question with any other business investment and you immediately see how ridiculous it is - "what if we invest in good trucks and drivers leave?" "What if we improve our shop and people leave?" "What if we raise our pay rates and people leave?" That kind of second guessing rarely happens outside of training investments, so it shouldn't happen here either.
Reason #7: Do you really think you can build a successful business without investing in your people?
In any service business, you need to continually invest in improving the quality and efficiency of your offering in order to have a shot at success. Your competitors are making those investments right now, so if you're not investing at least as much, you're falling behind and they're going to crush you.
So, to summarize all that, and try to put it more positively, I guess my answer to the question is...
"Don't worry about it. Invest in building a better workforce for the long term and trust your good drivers to recognize that investment and stick with you."
...which is exactly what good fleets are already doing.
Of course, if you work for a company where execs ask questions like this with any kind of frequency, you should probably start looking for an exit. That kind of short term thinking will ultimately kill the business, so you're best to get out while you can.