Custom-built for a new generation
Automatic side-loader (ASL) trucks help extend careers of veteran drivers and appeal to younger members of the workforce.
Photo courtesy of New Way Trucks

Custom-built for a new generation

Features - Equipment Focus | Collection Trucks

Truck manufacturers and haulers find design inspiration from an evolving workforce.

September 8, 2022

Recruiting and retaining collection truck drivers have been challenges for waste hauling companies for some time, and the industry seems to be taking a multipronged approach to solving the problem.

Speaking at the Waste360 Investors Summit in May, Marcus Knight, president of Fort Worth, Texas-based Knight Waste Services, said the hiring landscape has changed so much that past retention and recruitment strategies have been rendered “useless, almost.”

He said, “It’s not just this industry. It’s all industries where people are looking for CDL [commercial driver’s license] drivers. You see it on billboards; you see it on trucks; you see it everywhere.”

Also speaking at the Investors Summit, Steve Batchelor, senior vice president of operations for Houston-based WM’s western region, said pay in the industry “provides family-supporting careers.”

“Drivers are making $100,000 a year, and we’re seeing that more,” he said. “People make more—or have the potential to make more—than people who spend a long time in school.”

While Knight said he’s trying to contact truck driving schools to recruit, Boca Raton, Florida-based Coastal Waste & Recycling CEO Brendon Pantano, also speaking at the Investors Summit, said he is trying to attract drivers with what he called “bad-ass trucks.”

“For us, it comes down to culture, and we want to be the choice place to work,” he said. “We want to be a place where people love to work, so we buy and build bad-ass trucks so, a competitor drives by and sees our trucks and says, ‘Oh, I should go look into that.’”

Pantano said that could mean chrome wheels, visors or an American flag painted on the side of the truck.

“If a driver does a great job for us, he can deck out his truck however he wants,” he said. “We’re all about culture and being a great place to work.”

“Ergonomics is important to us from the standpoint of functionality and less stress on the driver, but it’s still a garbage truck, and it still has to be functional. We have found that the simpler the refuse truck is, the better it is for our customers.” — Stan Mikalonis, chief revenue officer, Battle MotorS

Seeking safety in trucks

In addition to custom paint jobs and creating a culture based on rewarding excellence, safety, technology and ergonomics are the three areas truck buyers seem most interested in, Stan Mikalonis, chief revenue officer at Battle Motors, based in New Philadelphia, Ohio, tells Waste Today.

Those areas are intertwined in the development of a truck, he explains, particularly safety and technology.

Automatic driver assistance systems (ADAS) are becoming more and more popular as a safety feature, he says. In August, Mikalonis says Battle Motors released its digital dashboard, which integrates a variety of technology in the cab, including ADAS.

“Mobileye 8 Connect is one of the companies we’re working with that is handling our forward-looking collision avoidance system that alerts the driver and stops the truck before you hit anything,” he says. “It is integrated into our new digital dash powered by our proprietary software, RevolutionOS (RevOS). The integration of the digital dashboard includes cameras, sensors and lane departure systems and is key to enhancing driver and pedestrian safety. Camera systems can give the driver 360-degree visibility around the truck to avoid collisions with other vehicles, trash cans or other objects,” he adds.

“For us, it was originally to collect data on the truck [and] do over-the-air updates. It includes your GPS, speedometer, odometer, battery or gas usage,” he says, adding that RevOS also tracks performance and reduces downtime. “Some of these bigger fleets are spending $2,000 to $3,000 a month with third parties for subscriptions, whether it’s for routing, safety systems, camera systems or to record all of this stuff.”

Haulers and municipalities want that technology for various reasons, whether it’s to provide a system for recording and storing camera footage, for safety reasons or to provide better customer service by enabling communication between drivers and supervisors, Mikalonis explains.

He says Battle Motors also is focusing on cab comfort to appeal to drivers and protect their health.

“We’ve been moving swiftly over the past 15 years toward more of an automotive design in trucks for driver retention, driver recruitment and driver comfort,” Mikalonis says, adding that most original equipment manufacturers are headed in that direction. “They’re trying to make the truck more like what people drive every day. You’re seeing a lot more automotive dashes. … You’re seeing a lot more padded doors, power windows and power doors—all the kinds of stuff you would see in a car.”

Those types of changes to cab design serve the dual purpose of appealing to drivers because of their comfort and also to hauling companies and municipalities because they can help protect drivers.

“Ergonomics is important to us from the standpoint of functionality and less stress on the driver, but it’s still a garbage truck, and it still has to be functional,” Mikalonis says. “We have found that the simpler the refuse truck is, the better it is for our customers.”

Because a driver could climb in and out of a cab as many as 1,000 times during a route, he says it must be easy for them to enter and exit the truck’s cab.

“Having an 18-inch-low entry, not having to twist around to sit in the seat, seat comfort and forward visibility are all important,” Mikalonis says.

He also says the comfort of the seat itself is important. Without an air-ride seat and good suspension elements, he says drives to landfills can be long and uncomfortable for drivers.

Photos courtesy of New Way Trucks

Keeping and attracting workers

A continuing trend in the collection truck market is the industry’s move toward automated side-loader (ASL) trucks, says Don Ross, vice president of sales and marketing for New Way Trucks, Scranton, Iowa.

“The industry has trended toward the use of automated side loaders for automation for nearly 20 years, with a larger push occurring in the 2000s due to the safety enhancements they provide and the 2010s due to the lower labor demand of a one-person operated RCV [refuse collection vehicle],” he says.

Ross says ASLs reduce labor costs and help mitigate workforce challenges. “The wins are a significant reduction in worker injuries, a significant increase in production, extending an aging workforce by eliminating the heavy lifting and keeping the driver in the climate-controlled cab,” he says. “ASLs offer a gender-neutral work environment, providing access to more potential driver operators.”

Mikalonis agrees that “all drivers like to drive new stuff.”

He continues, “It’s generational, too. You’ve got 75 million baby boomers who are at retirement age leaving the workforce, and you have the Millennials and the Gen Ys coming in. There are 90 million of those folks, and they’re totally different in what they’re looking for.

“Although not many members of the incoming generations want to drive trucks,” Mikalonis says manufacturers can improve cabs with technology, such as Battle Motor’s RevOS dashboard.

Photo courtesy of Battle Motors

“[Truck design] is going to have to be technologically advanced; it’s going to have to be sexy,” he says. “They don’t want to be in the truck business. Whereas [technology] might be a turn-off to Boomers, it’s an attraction to the younger drivers.”

This was a sentiment shared by some at the Investors Summit, including Kelley Rooney, senior vice president and chief people officer at WM. She said she believes the industry needs to present the job to prospective drivers differently.

“It’s not a driving job; it’s a technical operation job,” she said. “That’s why we love to get people in the cab of an automated truck because it’s like a driving video game. What you’re really doing is operating a joystick all day and positioning this vehicle.”

Mikalonis says he can imagine young drivers using in-cab technology to listen to satellite radio or watch Netflix on their lunch breaks, and they also are likely to use mapping software.

Whether it’s a custom paint job, a safety feature or technology that appeals to a driver, Mikalonis says it’s always important for truck makers to listen to haulers and municipal program operators who are, in turn, listening to their drivers and prospective drivers.

“It’s not just about the truck,” he says. “It’s about our partnership and sharing information to make us better as an industry.”

The author is managing editor of Waste Today. He can be reached at