First-rate reefer fleets

Refrigerated Transporter Published on May 2021

By Commercial Vehicle Staff

Best Fleets to Drive For winners Prime Inc., Halvor Lines discuss their approaches to maintaining driver-friendly workplaces

Creating a company culture that consistently ranks among the best in the industry is no simple feat.

For Halvor Lines and Prime Inc., continuous improvement to make the livelihoods better for its drivers is engrained in its DNA. It’s why both are regularly recognized as winners in the Best Fleets to Drive For program, which identifies the top workplaces for drivers in the North American trucking industry. Prime Inc., has been named a winner in each of the last six years, and an overall winner for large carriers in 2019. Halvor Lines has been named a winner for nine consecutive years.

As leaders in the refridgerated sector, Refridgerated Transporter caught up with Clayton Brown, Prime Inc., marketing director, along with Halvor Lines' Debbie Landry, director of driver services and Adam Lang, chief safety officer to see how they’re able to maintain a top workplace for drivers, and how they use the Best Fleets program to continuously improve its driver programs.

Refrigerated Transporter: What did you learn about your fleet after the first year you participated in the program?

Landry: Our first year participating in the program showed us the benefits of reviewing our work from the past 12 months and discussing what worked and what we could address to improve the workplace for drivers. It also gave us insights into best practices at other companies. It was a lot of work, but well worth the time invested.

Brown: In our first year we learned how the program’s structure could help us identify specific areas within our company that could be improved, allowing us to concentrate our efforts toward those areas. Every year, we’re able to gather new insights on how we can make continuous improvements toward the lifestyles of our drivers.

RT: What is an example of driver-related programs or policy changes the company has implemented or adjusted the past few years?

Lang: Through the Best Fleets driver surveys, we learned many of our drivers wanted us to move our pay schedule from bi-weekly to weekly. After months of hard work in 2019 we moved to a weekly pay schedule, with the option for existing drivers to maintain a two-week schedule if that worked better for them. This change led to improved satisfaction for existing Halvor drivers and had the added benefit of bolstering our recruiting efforts.

Brown: The Best Fleets program helped us formalize a couple of driver-related programs that truly benefited our operations. One, in particular, is the creation of our Driver Advisory Board. Prime has nearly 8,000 drivers and although our business model allows for every driver to be heard, the practice was never formal. By creating a Driver Advisory Board that consists of every division, representing all drivers, the formalization has proven to be successful. The board has quarterly meetings that are structured to provide open discussion and critical action items for in-house operations. Prime has completed many of those action items that have helped our professional drivers be more successful.

RT: Is there a program or policy change you’re most proud of or has been well-received by drivers?

Lang: Halvor’s driver turnover rate has always been well below national averages, so when we experienced an uptick in turnover in 2018, we took a deep dive into our data and saw that we were losing new drivers at a faster rate than before. We took action. Every week for the first three months a new driver is with us, they receive a phone call from a Halvor Lines staff member. These calls come from a variety of departments—safety, payroll, health & wellness, driver services, dispatch—to help us identify any issues the driver is having in their new job. Judging by the drop in new driver turnover and responses to our Best Fleets surveys, the additional contact has been well received by new drivers.

Brown: The creation of Prime’s Driver Health & Fitness program, Highway Diamonds program, and Prime Good Dads program are three that have become part of a well-being focus on our trucking company. Robert Low (Founder & CEO) recognized many years ago that the well-being of our professional drivers is extremely important. The job is not easy and naturally lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle coupled with time away from home. Prime has not only built facilities to help the health and well-being of our drivers, but also has produded voluntary programs that have been proven to be successful towards overall health.

RT: What are the attributes that make your company a top workplace for drivers?

Landry: Driver responses on our Best Fleets surveys say it best—our drivers value working for a company that truly respects them as people and as professional drivers. They know we do our best to keep them safe and comfortable on the road, and they appreciate that we get them home when it matters most. And they know that we’re always working to improve our operations in ways that benefit them.

Brown: Prime has always been driver-focused, but the Best Fleets program has helped us collaborate on all areas of our company to get better. Trucking is a competitive industry, and in order to be successful, we have to continuously get better. It’s been said that if you’re coasting, then you must be going downhill. Having that mindset in every department has helped us immensely.

RT: What are some driver-related challenges facing the industry and how have you addressed them?

Landry: Recruiting and retaining drivers is the biggest challenge facing any trucking company today. There are many factors, but pay and home time, which includes work-life balance, are the two biggest. We’ve responded in many ways, including increasing our pay package and formally establishing hundreds of dedicated routes that allow drivers to be home weekly—something we heard drivers ask for in the Best Fleets surveys. We’re also developing more career path options, and better communicating existing ones. This means drivers can aspire to off-road jobs like driving coach, CDL training coach, or dispatcher. Over-the-road, they can advance to becoming trainers, lease-purchase drivers or owner operators.

In 2020, we also established a driving school to bring aspiring drivers directly to Halvor Lines. Program instructors are all former Halvor drivers, which means students are introduced to our culture from day one.

Brown: Most recently, like most fleets, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. But we were vigilant and addressed the situation head-on. We worked with our company’s physician to create health protocols to keep drivers and office staff safe throughout the pandemic. Prime drivers were exceptional, remaining overly cautious with social distancing and sanitation. It was mission critical to provide our drivers with everything they needed to get products to shelves and to do it safely. Their work delivered for America during a critical time in our history.

RT: What benefits do you see as a result of being named a Top 20 Fleet?

Lang: From being involved with Best Fleets, we now operate in a culture of continuous improvement. We’re a better company today than we were when we earned our first designation in 2013. And we plan on being a better company in 2022 than we are today. Plus, earning a Best Fleets designation—and doing it nine years running—definitely helps us recruit drivers and staff.

Brown: The extremely thorough contest of the Best Fleets program tells us that to make the list you must be successful in many areas of your business. Our most cherished honor is knowing that a critical percentage of the award comes from positive feedback from our own driver base.