WasteExpo 2021 kicked off June 28 with a session titled “A View From the Hauler.”
The session, moderated by Paul Ross, vice president at Tulsa, Oklahoma-based American Waste Control, featured panelists Harland Chadbourne, director of purchasing at Longwood, Florida-based Waste Pro; Joshua Connell, co-founder and managing partner at Morton Grove, Illinois-based LRS; and T.J. Troiano, COO of South Portland, Maine-based Troiano Waste Services.
The session spanned a number of topics, including the importance of technology in waste collection, how companies are working to recruit and train drivers and best practices for keeping employees and customers satisfied.
Chadbourne said one of the most transformational technologies that has had a positive impact on Waste Pro in recent years is the deployment of 360-degree cameras in the company’s collection trucks.
“That is one of the biggest things we found out about the technology early on. It protected against false claims about the company and our drivers. When people would call in and say, ‘Your driver did something to our vehicle [or caused an issue of some sort],’ we would just tell them, ‘Would you like us to show you the tape?’, and then they’d hang up,” Chadbourne said. “The cameras have helped us avoid so many issues thanks to being able to see all around the vehicle. Most importantly, it has helped protect drivers’ livelihoods because it has been able to show our drivers doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Connell echoed the importance of cameras and other fleet technology in helping improve LRS’s safety record. And while he noted occasional pushback relating to the invasive nature of some of these solutions when they’re first introduced, they are able to gain acceptance when the value to the company’s personnel is fully understood.
“We were one of the early adopters of having GPS in our trucks, and it can be a touchy subject when you have technology that is leaving a bread-crumb trail of where our drivers are going all day. Then, we introduced cameras into the trucks, but we quickly identified the benefits to the company,” he said. “We found that 90 percent of the time, the cameras are used to protect the driver versus being used to get them in trouble. Just having a culture of safety and figuring out ways to protect the company has been a big part of our growth because, believe me, growth can be stifled quickly with one big accident. Those are things that we think about constantly.”
Connell said, often, it is the company’s hardest-working drivers who end up being involved in accidents and damaged property situations. He attributes this to these workers wanting to go above and beyond to get the job done, even when risks or obstacles are present. He said LRS works to remedy this situation by having regular safety meetings and advocating for open lines of communication between supervisors and drivers.
Troiano also praised the benefits of on-board fleet technologies in helping improve efficiency and safety within his company, but said there can be a fine line when it comes to how much interaction is too much from the company’s drivers. To help Troiano Waste Services’ drivers focus on the task of collection, the company only asks its collection personnel to interact with the in-truck tablet when there is a blocked dumpster or cart that cannot be collected.
In light of the driver shortage, waste companies across the country are starved for qualified help. The session’s panelists shared some of the ways their companies try to stand out among the competition both from a hiring and retention standpoint.
“We’ve been raising pay rates across the board—that’s a basic thing we’ve been doing,” Chadbourne said. “In terms of retention, some of our benefits packages have been increased this year, there have always been different bonus structures we’ve had that we’ve increased recently, as well. We also have hiring bonuses. You have to do whatever you can to bring people in. As we know, it’s a universal problem throughout the country. Everybody is struggling to get the same talent.”
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, Chadbourne said Waste Pro offers an attractive 401(K) retirement package, free help for estate planning and other legal services, and other perks like renovated drivers’ break rooms to appeal to workers.
Beyond increasing pay and benefits, Connell said fostering a sense of community is a fundamental way LRS creates an inviting workplace for its people.
“You have to pay more, but also, as part of our culture, you want to have a fun environment,” Connell said. “I know for drivers, we like to give them swag beyond what they wear day to day, like sweatshirts and hats and things like that. For our office staff, we did something fun during COVID where we started a fitness challenge. Everyone who was involved gets some company gear. It helped build some comradery between individuals, and it created a sense of fun for everyone. We also have it where on Fridays, we buy lunch for everyone. Something simple like that can go a long way in getting everyone together and improving retention.”
Thanks to Troiano Waste Services’ smaller size, Troiano said the ability to create a family atmosphere has helped unite the workforce.
“From our standpoint, we’re fortunate the size we’re at. We’re less than 100 employees. I really do know the name of every employee and can treat them more like a family member than a number. We pride ourselves on being a family company and [being able to have that atmosphere],” he said.
This personal touch isn’t just reserved for Troiano Waste Services’ employees, Troiano said. It is something the company works to extend to its customer base, as well.
“For us, it’s the simple things—keep the customer happy. We answer our phones when you call. We don’t have an automated system. We deal with extra pickups well, we deal with customer complaints well. Every complaint a customer has just allows us to shine better in the future. It comes down to treating the customer well for a fair price and giving optimal service,” he said.