Twenty carriers have been named to the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and CarriersEdge 2021 Best Fleets to Drive For list. This year’s Best Fleets include four carriers new to the list and 16 that were also recognized in 2020.

Produced by CarriersEdge, in partnership with TCA, Best Fleets to Drive For is an annual survey and contest that identifies the for-hire carriers providing the best workplace experiences for their drivers. All the carriers will be honored during TCA’s Annual Convention — Truckload 2021: Las Vegas — Sept. 25-28 at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort.

Two overall winners in the large and small fleet categories will be announced at the conference. The overall winner awards are sponsored by EpicVue and TruckRight.

Nominations for the 2022 Best Fleets to Drive For contest are being accepted through Oct. 31, 2021.

Truckload Indexes profiling fleets in this year’s top 20 prior to Truckload 2021: Las Vegas. Answers have been edited for style and brevity. The entire list for 2021 is available here

Fleet: Jetco Delivery

Since 1976, Jetco has partnered with sophisticated shippers and intermediaries to meet trucking and freight brokerage needs throughout the Gulf Coast and North America. Through its family of companies, Jetco provides intermodal, open-deck, heavy-haul, dry van, asset-backed freight brokerage, and warehousing services. Its team has 150 professional commercial vehicle operators and about 200 employees (and growing). Headquartered in Houston, Jetco operates terminals in Dallas, La Porte, Texas, and Freeport, Texas.

Jetco is a part of The GTI Group, a Montreal-based specialized transport company providing integrated logistics and transportation services, including asset-based trucking, freight brokerage, and warehousing and storage. As a combined entity, there are more than 380 employees, including more than 250 commercial vehicle operators, servicing clients primarily throughout North America.

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What does it mean to you to be among the Top 20 Best Fleets to Drive For?

JETCO: “For many years we’ve known about the Best Fleets to Drive For and it’s an honor and privilege to be among such an elite group, especially as it’s our first year to apply and then to win. The recognition is a testament to our team and their hard work and commitment to our core value of safety. The Best Fleets recognition is especially meaningful because of the rigorous selection process. In addition to the detailed application and interview process, Best Fleets surveyed our professional drivers. The direct communication between Best Fleets and our drivers validated the information we provided and confirmed for us the enterprisewide level of alignment in our company.

“For us, like all awards, Best Fleets 2021 is based on the past. It acknowledges our past performance yet challenges us to do better, to keep raising the bar. We’ve simply set a new, higher benchmark for ourselves.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What do you consider your strengths when it comes to recruiting and retention of drivers?

JETCO: “Our greatest strengths when it comes to recruiting and retaining drivers is our laser focus on our hiring for culture and value alignment. We hire professionals who share our commitment to safety as a core value. We have strict hiring criteria, an extensive recruiting process and then a comprehensive onboarding program to ensure we’re hiring drivers who are like-minded in our commitment to safety. Our drivers are rewarded and celebrated for their safety performance. They, too, help us recruit and retain drivers because they also only want to work with the most professional peers.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What are some of the unique programs and processes you’ve implemented over the past 12 months to improve the lives of your drivers?

JETCO: “If we look only at the past 12 months, COVID has been the focus. Our mantra is that we must be ‘safe and productive.’ It’s not an either/or decision. So, through the COVID era, we implemented new health protocols, including enhanced truck sanitization procedures and ongoing education. The COVID era took a toll on everyone’s stress levels. We kept stress levels in check by accommodating load scheduling to driver needs. If a driver was not comfortable going out of town, then we kept him/her local. We unconditionally put the driver and his/her family first.” 

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What is the messaging about your company that you try to convey to your drivers and potential drivers?

JETCO: “As a 45-year-old company, we’ve been through many freight cycles. We’re focused on the long term. Nearly all our business is with repeat clients, which translates into stability. Even during the sharp downturn in the early part of the COVID era, our team was busy due to the diverse industries that we serve. 

“An investment in safety is an investment in you. No load is more important than your safety. Safety also means security — we look to invest long term in employees who are in it for the long haul with us. For us, it’s about building a family — with our employees AND with their families — that is always all working toward a common goal of safety first, not just while at work but at home, too. Our long-term focus is especially important in the current robust freight market where other companies lure drivers with gimmicks and short-term incentives.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What tools/strategies do you utilize to maintain lines of communication with drivers?

JETCO: “We have many ways for drivers to communicate with us. We provide our drivers with their own Jetco email addresses. We realize, however, that nothing beats in-person communication. The most important part of driver communication is to ensure that drivers can execute their mission without distraction. Clearly, no communications happen when the driver is driving. It’s equally important to ensure that difficult conversations do not happen at a time when the driver is over the road and could become distracted by that conversation, even if they were parked during the conversations.

“If we need to have a discussion with the driver, we schedule in advance. We prefer in-person conversations as opposed to telephone when possible. Less sensitive conversations can be done over the phone or via electronic communications.

“In our industry, there is so much potential for negative feedback that we go out of our way to stress positive feedback. We receive shoutouts regularly from our customers and members of the public, and we share those both with our drivers and the whole company to reinforce outstanding behaviors.

“We’re proactive in sharing safety messages and preventing issues before they arise. In today’s world, we’re bombarded and overwhelmed by email, so we’re careful in the number and frequency of emails we send — and are deliberate in acknowledging when a communication can be sent via email versus when a conversation needs to be had via a different channel. In addition to email, we also send drivers messages via their company-supplied tablets and via text message to their phones. We hold in-person tailgate meetings, often outside and socially distanced throughout COVID-19. We also produced more and more video messages and held virtual town halls regularly. We posted signage with safety reminders throughout our offices and terminals. We also mail letters home to the families, so our safety messages reach households, too.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: How do you approach driver training?

JETCO: “We’ve moved away from traditional ‘push’ training where our drivers show up for a lecture and then leave. Our training today is much more focused on ‘on-demand’ learning where people can learn on their schedule. Our in-person training is interactive and where possible is led by peers. Our drivers train one another.

“Our training programs are designed to give drivers upward career paths. It starts at our extensive orientation program, which consists of two days of classroom training, followed by two weeks of over-the-road ride-alongs. The classroom training covers 40-plus topics, most of which relate to our culture and the safety behaviors required to be a successful employee with Jetco. The two-week program pairs a driver with a prequalified driver trainer. The ride-along is an opportunity to talk about and reinforce safe behaviors and the Jetco way, and it positions the trainer as a mentor to the new hire — one the new hire can turn to when s/he has questions.

“From there, we do a mix of in-person and virtual training every week as part of our proactive approach to keeping drivers’ skills sharp and critical safety topics top of mind. Often, our drivers help in creation of in-house-produced, homegrown videos; they enjoy participating in these videos to help teach and push their peers to be better drivers.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: Do you provide a driver career path? If so, can you explain?

JETCO: “Yes, we do. In our view, a professional development program for a driver must have multiple components, depending on their goals and skill set; it’s not one size fits all. Accordingly, we have tracks for drivers to achieve their goals, whether driving a truck or ultimately performing another role within the organization.

“Jetco follows many different forms of development activities including classroom and one-on-one training. We’re extremely proud of our five levels of progression. We often hire flatbed drivers who aspire to learn out-of-gauge and heavy-haul loads. Once they’ve proven their ability to us, we offer the ability for the drivers to learn increasingly complex loads that are accompanied by greater professional challenges and compensation. We’re also very proud of several drivers who now work in our office or field supervisory functions.

“For company drivers who have proven themselves and desire to become an owner-operator, we have created a pathway. We finance truck acquisition and more importantly offer the business training needed to succeed as an owner-operator.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: Within the annual Best Fleets process, the driver surveys are a crucial part of the scoring process. The results of these surveys can validate or invalidate the interview and questionnaires. What were some of the comments or results from this year’s survey that you took note of?

JETCO: “The comments centered around a few key points that we really strive to achieve every day and that we pride ourselves on at Jetco:

“We nurture a life-changing, team-oriented safety culture. Communication is key, and we’ve created a safe environment where people feel comfortable having sometimes tough conversations. People know they can call a timeout without negative consequence. Our team also holds each other accountable and is committed to helping each other learn and improve every day.

“As part of our culture, we’ve nurtured a family atmosphere where people are treated like individuals, not numbers. We prioritize our drivers, their needs and the safety of everyone. The company is small enough to give individual attention but large enough to provide stability, support and peace of mind.

“We provide people with the tools they need not just to do their jobs, but to build lifelong careers. From orientation and onboarding through working on the team, people recognize that we’re helping them on their career journey, whether they want to stay in their current position or move elsewhere within the company. We provide not just competitive pay and benefits, but opportunities for people to take the next steps in their careers.”

TRUCKLOAD INDEXES: What advice can you share with other fleets when it comes to driver management and becoming a destination for drivers?

JETCO: “Our managers pooled their advice together on driver management and becoming a destination for drivers.

“From our intermodal director: ‘Treating drivers with respect is essential. It starts by respecting our drivers and the difficult jobs they perform, treating them as individuals and not simply a number. When we establish respect for each other, we can have effective communication that goes both ways. And when we have respect for one another and effective communication, we can then encourage and hold each other accountable to put safety above all else — their safety and the public’s.’

“From our intermodal manager: ‘Engaged drivers are better, safer employees and more likely to stick around. Take the time to build relationships with drivers. Drivers want to feel appreciated and heard. When you engage them as partners in problem solving, it makes them feel like active contributors to the company. We take every opportunity to encourage our drivers to share their ideas and feedback. Communicating, listening, executing and follow up are key to becoming a company drivers want to work for.’”

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