“Professional drivers deserve more respect!”

Reading time: approx. 4 minutes
Text: Oliver Schönfeld
Photos: Holger Jacoby

Jörg Schwerdtfeger never imagined that he would become an influencer at the age of 50. But with his voluntary initiative “I am a professional driver and deserve respect”, the experienced haulage expert has hit a nerve. More than 27,000 subscribers and a lively exchange on the Facebook channel of the same name speak for themselves.

Jörg Schwerdtfeger was a professional driver himself for more than 17 years and thus experienced the changes in the industry first hand: tougher working conditions, high time and performance pressure, plus an increasingly negative image – in his opinion, this profession does not deserve that. Observing this development made the practically oriented forwarding specialist dissatisfied: With Westphalian down-to-earthness and straightforwardness, Schwerdtfeger likes to address possible problems directly and does not shirk from making his opinion clear. This is how the initiative was born out of a spontaneous idea in September 2017, which has since been making more and more circles on social media. “Drivers are loners in their work, so it’s not easy to get something going together,” says the author. “The campaign is intended to promote togetherness and cohesion among the drivers.”

Making society think

“I am a professional driver and I deserve respect” – the title alone sums up what the 54-year-old is about: “I want to create a better understanding for drivers and their situation and initiate a reflection insociety about the industry.” Schwerdtfeger’s life partner, the graphic designer Andrea Welge, was at his side from the beginning. She created the logo and designed the distinctive blue sticker, which is in great demand not only among drivers. Schwerdtfeger has already distributed more than 30,000 stickers – all free of charge, of course, as he emphasises. “For me, the campaign is neither about myself nor about commercial aspects, but solely about the cause.” Recently, a closed group of the same name was added to the public Facebook channel, which is also already very popular. Here, the experts can discuss among themselves more intensively and exchange experiences.

»The versatile profession of driving deserves a better image.“

Jörg Schwerdtfeger, human resources manager at Westfalen-Lippe Speditions- und Lagerhausgesellschaft mbH

Driver shortage forces action

The importance of logistics for intact production chains, but also for supplying the population, is still all too often underestimated. “Without responsible and committed drivers, literally nothing works. They are therefore entitled to two things: fair pay and more appreciation,” Schwerdtfeger emphasises. Several times a week, he speaks up with food for thought and news – and also likes to be provocative to get discussions going. But factual arguments should always be the focus. He never expected that he would achieve such a range in just a few years. But at the latest with the acute driver shortage, a rethink has set in in the industry. “I know that not only truck drivers, but also many logistics entrepreneurs have subscribed to the channel. If only one out of 100 bosses changes something in their company as a result of our discussions, a lot has already been achieved,” Schwerdtfeger makes clear.

Jörg Schwerdtfeger was himself behind the wheel for 17 years and knows exactly about the worries and hardships of professional drivers.

Train yourself, reduce fluctuation

Talking alone is not enough if the image of the driving profession and the transport industry is to improve. Schwerdtfeger wants to prove at his own workplace what even supposedly small measures can achieve: After many years as a professional driver and dispatcher, he has been human resources manager at Westfalen-Lippe Speditions- und Lagerhausgesellschaft (WL-Spedition) in Herford since 2015. Binding employees to the company is his top priority – preferably right from the first day of work. “We rely on consistent driver training with three to five trainees per apprenticeship year. From the end of the probationary period, we already pay them twice the regular apprenticeship pay.” In addition to the financial aspects, however, it is also about showing respect to the drivers on a daily basis. This includes a specially equipped heated rest room in the form of an old shipping container on the company premises as well as high-quality work clothes, ongoing training and a modern, safe and comfortable fleet of vehicles. The drivers are consciously closely involved in the daily processes. Intensive communication between dispatchers and drivers is important also – everyone works together. The effect of these measures can be seen in the staff turnover at WL-Spedition: It is far below the industry average. Many drivers have been loyal to the company for more than 30 years – a rarity in today’s world.

Employee retention as a success factor

With 140 employees and 80 units on the road, the issue of employee retention is also a significant competitive factor for WL-Spedition. After all, having to recruit and train new drivers again and again costs human resources, time and a lot of money. Schwerdtfeger is convinced that “ensuring a high level of staff loyalty is also the better strategy in the long run from a business point of view.” His boss Frank Zill, fourth-generation managing partner of WL-Spedition since 2006, supports him in this. “In addition, we also sensitise our customers to rethink,” Zill reports. “And if there are any problems on site, we are of course always approachable here for the drivers to find solutions.”

WL-Spedition was founded in Osnabrück in 1935, and today its headquarters are in Herford, Westphalia. The foundation stone for the business activities was formed by groupage transports within Germany. Over the years, the company developed into a forwarding and transport specialist operating throughout Europe, offering almost all services related to transport. WL-Spedition is also constantly moving forward in terms of technology – for example, with the use of long trucks as early as 2017, with certification according to the “Ökoprofit” standard and, since 2019, with the increasing use of vehicles with alternative natural gas drive (LNG).

The apprenticeship profession must not disappear

But Jörg Schwerdtfeger does not only think about his own drivers. It was a matter of course for him, for example, to immediately set up four parking spaces as part of the “Kravag Truck Parking” and to create a shower and rest area for the outside drivers on the company premises in Herford. The creative and agile manager is not likely to run out of ideas in the future – especially when it comes to “his” drivers. For him, taking a step back is out of the question, even in the future. “My wish is to have more time in retirement at the latest to inform people in schools about our wonderful and versatile training profession.” Because professional drivers not only deserve respect, but also a future.

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