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Finishing Program Trains Road Pilots

By on March 1, 2016
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Green Transportation Finds Way to Earn More and Pay Better

By almost any measure, starting a trucking company or buying a new truck as an owner-operator during 2007 had the potential to become a financial disaster once the Great Recession hit. To compound the situation for Green Transportation headquartered in Holland, Michigan, the state’s economy plummeted faster and deeper than those of many others.

The story of Green Transportation’s survival and transition to a thriving, well-oiled machine is worth telling for both drivers and company owners alike. The shrinking post-recession labor pool, stagnant economic growth, and the increasing driver shortage posed other challenges that continue to be a drag on the industry.

Drawing upon his deep roots in the trucking industry dating back to his father’s life-long career and now including his son, Jason, Green Transportation General Manager, founder and CEO Mike Dargis identified a need for a more efficient transportation approach to servicing 11 western states, Texas and Florida. In cooperation with premium LTL carrier Zip Xpress, a sister company, Dargis set out to provide Michigan manufacturers and distributors with better outbound service at a lower cost than anyone else.

Freight Optimization

Larger, but less than full head loads are frequently picked up by Green’s line haul trailers
and brought to a service center shared with Zip Xpress. The load is then filled out with LTL shipments picked up by Zip Xpress. In other cases, several Zip LTL loads are combined into a full load. This is frequently accomplished with bulkheads and/or decking. Dargis feels there are far too many partial loads moving as “full loads” resulting in a negative impact on the industry.

Multiple products having various sizes and shapes can usually benefit from freight reconfiguration. The Zip-Green combination serves RP-3shippers of high-value freight, products requiring temperature control, lift-gate deliveries, blanket-wrapped shipments, and those requiring time-specific or expedited delivery.

If there is at least 8 feet of trailer space or 10,000 pounds of unused capacity that can be filled, shippers can save approximately 10 percent. By optimizing head loads with LTL freight to fill 100 percent of trailer capacity without service delays, savings of 30 percent or more are frequently possible. Everybody wins: the head load and LTL shippers save money and Green Transportation earns more revenue. Instead of averaging $1.50 per mile, the revenue may increase to $2.25 to $2.50 per mile. In turn, drivers are paid better and will earn a yearend bonus, if their safety, on-time service and fuel consumption goals are
met.

Green Transportation serves 38 states on backhauls and handles a wide variety of loads. With 80 percent of the trailers refrigerator equipped, hauling produce and other temperature-sensitive loads is a significant part of the business.

Finishing Program

RP-2To help fill the need for qualified drivers, Dargis started a driver finishing school in 2009. Recruiting includes leading CDL schools,
drivers from other companies and prospects from outside the industry. They need to come in with an open mind. What they will find is a program that Dargis believes to be unique in the industry, some might say ‘mind blowing.’ Standards are set high in order to give Green Transportation’s customers the best possible service.

As part of the interview process, prospects are put through a series of tests including an extensive road test. Those who pass the initial screening meet with the General Manager and the Safety Director. An emphasis is placed on the lifestyle aspects of being an OTR trucker. The importance of regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet is also discussed. Those who clear all hurdles enter into a three-phase, nine-week training program:

P1W1 – Single OTR dispatch with trainer: fuel, routing and load expectations.

P1W2 – Single OTR dispatch with trainer: HOS and DOT rules.

P1W3 – Single OTR dispatch with trainer: the Green Model and paperwork.

At this point, students are evaluated to determine their readiness for the next phase. Program progress is discussed with Operations and Driver Relations. Most advance; some do not.

P2W4 – Easy OTR team dispatch with trainer: mountains and long-period driving.

P2W5 – Easy OTR team dispatch with trainer: problem solving and forward thinking.

Another evaluation is scheduled with Operations and Driver Relations. By now, students are developing a good feel for life on the road and the Green standards for customer service.

P3W6 – Moderate OTR team dispatch with trainer: equipment and shifting.

P3W7 – Moderate OTR team dispatch with trainer: hook and drop, backing, reefer unit.

P3W8 & 9 – Difficult OTR team dispatch with trainer: overview of everything.

Graduation Requirements

Trainers must attest that the student met all requirements and performed the duties to Green Transportation standards. A successful final Evaluation Road Test administered by the General Manager leads to graduation.

Probation

Each student is then teamed with an experienced Road Pilot® to begin a 90-day probationary period. Trainers are available for questions and to help along the way. By setting the standards from the very beginning, each student develops the traits needed to become a certified Road Pilot. Each graduate is no longer “just a driver,” but an informed, skilled and confident Road Pilot.

Road Pilot Difference

Our mission of providing a higher standard of service begins with our Road Pilots,” said Dargis. “We believe they are the most important factor in providing superior customer service and making our company successful. We have developed a culture of respect, and actively seek ways to make their jobs and their lives easier.

“Road Pilots enjoy regular outbound routes. They have 1-1/2 to 2 days of home time each week, and enjoy one week off every eight weeks. Road Pilots run their flight plans, confident in their abilities to meet customer expectations. They don’t need to call the tower or air traffic control for every little hiccup. Graduate Road Pilots are paid as if they were 10-year veterans, because they’ve been trained to perform at a high level of confidence and efficiency. We also have a pet friendly policy that helps us recruit.

“Since starting the Road Pilot program and conducting our own training, we’ve experienced less than 10 percent turnover. We were also able to negotiate with our insurance agent and the underwriting company to insure our drivers as if they were 10-year veterans, resulting in a substantial cost savings. We’ve experienced fewer incidents and have received refunds on our workers’ comp insurance. Our fuel efficiency is higher, and breakdowns are reduced.

“I’m hoping company owners read this article and consider implementing a similar training program. I also hope drivers embrace the core principles of being a Road Pilot. I firmly believe the industry can better utilize the existing capacity that traverses this country to move freight more efficiently, reduce the current driver shortage, and result in a larger pie to be shared with everyone in the industry.”

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