During the late eighties and early nineties, the thought of having to phone a driver agency filled the average Transport Manager with dread, it was in many cases an unknown area where there was little or no control. The fact of the matter was that it was necessary, but it didn't detract from the fact that uncertainty leads to insecurity, and visions of one of your gleaming pieces of kit being piloted by someone who may have just come of a night shift in some obscure factory was an all to real possibility.
Unlike today where (in our view) there should be no excuse, the agency being used of yesteryear had very few drivers on its books, supplying drivers wasn't its key area of expertise, and was very likely ignorant of its legal obligations. This was mainly because the number of dedicated driver agencies were 'thin on the ground', or not available in your area leaving you with no other option. Equally so, the driver being supplied was either ignorant of the then drivers hours rules and the overall legislative requirements or just simply held a license and used it at odd periods to earn some extra cash. This left the average transport manager invariably hoping that the day ended without incident.
The use of driver agencies has grown, and with the opening of Regional Distribution Centres along the M/Way corridors during the
nineties, some towns along these corridors (such as the M4) became virtually impossible to recruit drivers unless from an agency. This
in itself did nothing to benefit the industry, except to highlght the question of why the Transport Industry had allowed itself to
get into this mess.
The start of 2000 and the centralisation of the enforcement arena had only just started. Equally so, the Road Transport Working Time Directive wasn't around either, 2005 was still way off. However, as early as 1990 the industry knew it had a major problem looming and yet it did nothing to protect itself from the enevitable.
So, where are we today? Has anything changed or improved for the better, and can you be sure you're getting a trained and responsible driver who will carry your company image in the same manner your own drivers do? In truth some things have changed; but to what degree?
- Do I need to use Agency Drivers?
- The Pitfalls for the unwary TM
- What can I do to ensure I get good agency drivers?
- Further Reading
Do I need to use Agency Drivers?
Invariably you'll find a necessity to use agency drivers, it is extremely unlikely you'll get away without doing so and at some point during the year you'll find it necessary. Long gone are the days when driver agencies were associated with poor transport management, the requirement to use them today has become an everyday part of transport life, like it or not. However, it is possible to minimise the need for agency driver use, with some transport operations being in a better position than others, with dependence on agency driver use dictated by the obligations you have to your clients.
If you operate regular weekly multi drop schedules, it is possible to drop a single route and pick it back up the next day, although it shouldn't become a regular practice just because one of your own has thrown a 'sickie'. However, it's not wholly about cost, it's got a lot to do with enhancing your service levels first and foremost, and based on this fact, your long-term costs probably won't suffer and neither will your image if you are perceived to be a reliable service focused operator. With this in mind, maintain a full work force and place less reliance on agency driver use by employing your own relief drivers. To go down this route is merely simple mathematics based upon the number of days holidays per annum across the driver workforce as follows:
(However, this is not the whole story and other factors must be taken into consideration)
To enable this system to work, holidays need to be on a first come, first served basis and spread throughout the year if possible, with say 1 weeks holiday taken in the first quarter, 2 weeks in the second and third quarters and 1 week in the last quarter of the year. It should also be the case that no more than two drivers are on holiday at any one time. If you are able to introduce a system such as this, there are distinct advantages, such as: -
- Holidays get booked in advance and not sprung on you at the last minute.
- Everyone knows where they stand.
- Peak periods are catered for.
- More control over your workforce.
- Your staff will maintain your company image in the manner you require.
- More control over paperwork, POD's, CMR's, tachograph charts/digital print outs etc.
- Products don't get lost or damaged.
- Your drivers are more likely to look after your vehicles.
- Customers are happier, your reputation is enhanced.
Taking this route may seem a big step, but in the long term your company will benefit. Equally so, it gives you the real possibility of not having to use agency drivers at all, or certainly very rarely.
Another method to maintain total control of any out-sourced driver use is to use freelance drivers. Freelance drivers offer more advantages than using a general driver agency inasmuch as you only carry out one induction training period per driver; he/she can be treated as part of your own workforce thus taking part in all training programs, be kitted out in your company uniform especially if your requirement is for a temporary fixed term period possibly due to a seasonal peak in trade. In situations such as this, freelance drivers (if treated with respect) are an added bonus as you both know each other, and importantly he/she knows how your company operates.
Whatever you do to minimise use of agency drivers, a firm consideration needs to be that of cost. Where employment of permanent relief drivers may appear extravagant, the cost of upset clients, vehicle damage and lost paperwork must also be taken into consideration. Your customers wont accept the excuse that using an agency driver is a valid reason for their delivery not arriving, too many have used that one before you and it doesn't wash anymore. However, if your clients are aware you go that extra mile by employing relief drivers to minimise disruption to them, that certainly wont hurt the perception they have of you as a business.
The Pitfalls for the unwary TM
There are some poor driver agencies out there in just the same way there are some poor operators, this includes some agency branches that are owned by franchisees. Much of the problem finding good agency drivers comes from the old estate agent adage 'location, location, location,'. If you run a transport operation in the Midlands, the chances are you'll find a plethora of good driver agencies because of a competitive market serving a heavy transport area and invariably they understand the local requirements well. The opposite can be said of some areas of the South of England (especially along the coast), where there is little or no industry and certainly no major transport operators due to the fact that being on the coast means no southern territory to service.
The problems facing transport operators using agency drivers are all to common, and in some instances it's not unusual for drivers being supplied who turn up with:-
- Little or no knowledge of the duties they are to perform.
- No idea how to load a truck being mindful of weight distribution.
- Little or no knowledge of current transport legislation regarding tachographs or charts.
- In the case of 7.5 tonne drivers, having the licence by default but not having driven more than twice in the last twelve months.
- Don't know/understand what a first use inspection or defect sheet is.
- In some cases, don't know how to use a tachograph.
- In some rare cases, don't have the correct category of license.
- Invariably don't possess any maps.
- Looking like they've been dragged through a hedge backwards.
- Sometimes with an attitude that defies belief.
Is it any wonder that driver agencies have got such bad press? Remember, Employment Agencies are governed by regulation just as much as you are, unfortunately the enforcement body that governs you isn't quite as evident as perhaps it should be regarding the temporary driver supply industry.
What can I do to ensure I get good agency drivers?
The obvious answer is find a reputable agency that does what it says on the 'box'. All driver agencies should be mindful that they do not recruit drivers for themselves, but for its clients, and in all cases, agency staff and its drivers must be customer orientated at all times. In order to achieve this, in-house training programmes should be developed by agencies which concentrate on training on all aspects of transport law applicable for their drivers in the same way that transport operators do for theirs.
It should be commonplace for at least one of the agency staff to have visited each of their clients and their clients traffic office in order to gain first hand experience of what is required. In turn, this should be sufficient to brief drivers on what is expected of them and give them as much information as possible to aid them and sustain a positive working relationship before they arrive on site.
As an operator, don't expect your chosen driver agency to give you the 'best thing since sliced bread', it's unlikely they will. It is for you to set the benchmarks properly in the first place by holding discussions with your chosen agency in your area. Points to remember here is to establish that the agency is able to meet your requirements as follows: -
- A good staffing of drivers of all license category's.
- Good knowledge and understanding of Road Transport Law - agency staff as well as their drivers.
- Preferably that a key member of the agency office team have a National CPC.
- Determine how they maintain drivers tachograph charts and digital print outs and how they are returned to you.
- What training do they offer their drivers?
- Confirm that any specific requirement by you is catered for, such as Hiab licensed drivers, or drivers with Haz Chem Qualifications.
- Does the agency offer Driver Negligence insurance, what are the limits and are there any category of vehicles excluded?
- What are the agency rates?
- Discuss contract terms in depth.
- Ask who else uses their services and speak to the other companies who do.
On a final note here, remember you have a role to play with regard to any driver provided to you by an agency, inasmuch as that you must give each new boy a thorough briefing and some induction training before letting he/she loose in your vehicle(s). If you fail to carry out this simple function, be it on your own head. Remember, a temporary driver on his first visit to your company is more likely to have an accident or make a mistake than your own staff.
For further information relating to driver agencies, please visit the links below: -