Image can be everything

SASKATOON, Sask. – There is a popular notion that if you pay, they will come, but much more goes into recruiting and retaining a quality workforce.

Image plays a key role in the trucking industry’s struggles to attract a new, younger crop of employees. As a group of six panelists pointed out, work-life balance, safety, and comparable values all come into play when considering a career path.

Speaking during the Saskatchewan Trucking Association’s (STA) annual AGM and Gala in Saskatoon Oct. 26, Erin Diehl, co-owner of D&E Transport, said it’s all about providing the basic needs anyone would expect in a workplace.

“In our experience, to keep anyone interested in a career – women, Indigenous Peoples, minorities – you need to have the basic amenities for them,” said Diehl. “You need to have safe places for them to park and pull over, you need to have clean washrooms, you need to have showers that are clean and reasonably priced, not $25 a shower. That is unfortunately the reality I have seen, and that is enough to drive people away.”

Diehl said some former drivers have told her that they have had to forfeit their basic human needs at times in their career and have been pushed out of the industry as a result.

Bridget O’Shaughnessy, communications manager for Trucking HR Canada, said younger generations, like millennials, need to see parallels between them and the company they work for.

“If they don’t see their values reflected in their employer and in their industry, they are going to leave the industry or not be attracted to the industry in the first place,” she said.

O’Shaughnessy said millennials are also the most environmentally conscious generation, and that several fleets are making strides to reduce their carbon footprint, which can help attract younger workers.

Of Trucking HR Canada’s Top Fleet Employers, O’Shaughnessy said around 63% go above and beyond when it comes to environmental initiatives, doing more than simply trying to reduce fuel consumption.

Roger Clarke, transportation manager for Gordon Food Services, believes drivers and carriers are more cognizant of road safety. He would like to see drivers receive more training, which would improve safety, as well as the industry’s image.

“We have found that with a lot of the safety features in our trucks, and with the safety features available out there, that we have minimized our accidents,” said Clarke.

Human resource manager for Westcan Bulk Transport Chelsea Jukes agreed, saying both carriers and customers have a heightened awareness when it comes to safety.

“I think that we’ve seen professionalism and the quality of the truck driver improve, definitely in our company,” she said.

Being what Jukes described as “the faces of the company,” Westcan has branded its drivers as ambassadors of the road and provide them with a company uniform to identify them as such.

Jukes said today’s driver must be skilled beyond driving, and to attract younger operators, carriers must offer similar lifestyle perks and benefits as the Googles and other tech companies of the world have been providing for some time.

Westcan has launched what it calls its “Six S” initiative, which establishes a clean, organized, safe, and efficient workplace. Jukes said companies that show they care about the environment their employees work will attract a wider range of candidates.

As for caring for the environment of our planet, Diehl took issue with the notion that it’s only millennials that care and make an effort on that front.

“Everybody wants our environment to be clean, to be green, and to last as long as it can,” she said. “The drivers that we have, they spend their off hours in the environment, they’re outdoors people.”

Jim Olson, director of underwriting for commercial auto with SGI Canada, said a lot of great things are coming out of the trucking industry right now, if only the public would take notice.

“I wish that the public saw what we get to see, like the in-house driver training programs, the vehicle maintenance programs, electronic log books, driver bonuses for incident-free miles, sophisticated fleet monitoring systems,” Olson pointed out. “I truly don’t think that the public understands the amount of time, effort, and resources that are put into keeping the drivers and the general public safe.”

Olson said carriers also need to “own their social media, or it will end up owning them,” as negative headlines are more often than not the ones that go viral.

Dash cameras are one way Olson believes fleets can help improve their image, saying they will be a game-changer for the industry.

“It’s going to vindicate some drivers in situations whereas before, maybe they were unable to prove they weren’t culpable,” he said. “And in some cases it will prove that they did it, but ultimately it’s going to be holding people accountable.”

Citing a recent study, Olson said only about 20% of Saskatchewan fleets are using dash cameras. He added that from an insurance standpoint, insurers are looking to partner with companies using safety technologies, which can be a benefit financially for carriers.

Balpreet Singh, director for Falcon Transport, said his company uses ELDs and on-board tracking systems to help keep their drivers safe.

Singh has been in Canada since 2009, and said a lot has changed for those from the South Asian community when it comes to getting into the trucking industry.

Singh said there were issues for several minority groups in the past, particularly in the ‘80s and ‘90s when there was “less of a connection between the industry and the South Asian community.”

“Nowadays it’s improving a little bit day by day,” he said.

O’Shaughnessy said despite recent improvements, more needs to be done to attract women and minorities into trucking.

“We are seeing progress, but I think that more of these initiatives and getting more people involved in these initiatives will really push us forward,” she said, citing efforts by her organization and others like Women Building Futures.

And for that progress to continue, Jukes said carriers need to keep their foot on the diesel pedal.

“It’s not enough to just put out an ad saying, ‘Calling all women, young people, and visible minorities, we have a home for you,’” she said. “That’s not working.”

A panel of six discussed the trucking industry’s image and what has to change going forward during the STA’s annual AGM and Gala Oct. 26.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • It s a good article! I have worked for a good company that had trminals in Canada and they were from the USA and it is one of the the three good I do retain for their human way of working with their drivers,
    Example heading to main terminal you get your unit to be going into the shop for a inspection completel inspection along with the trailer.
    the unit get to be washed out and outside clean so it look good and the driver feel proud of his work,
    Now still in the main terminal you get a room provided for your need, shower whole nine yard, laundry ,kitchen,and company car to go in town to get your food for the road.
    Perhaps there is company like this one in canada and by the way I am Canadian and was driving an American truck and nice one.
    So my best guess is remember your drivers name and give them the assistance when need it perhaps they will stay q little longer.

  • We can be as professional as possible but customers have to start treating us as such. Some act like we are nuisances to their day when we make deliveries and treat us like dirt or worse. Wouldn’t kill them to offer a coffee or even just be nice once in a while.
    I now have a regular route. Some people I encounter are reasonable, others must be the most miserable and rude people on the planet.

  • As a 22yr, OTR, 2.5+million miler, I hate to be the sour grape in this bunch, but in many ways I see a lack of pride and/or professionalism in this business these days, especially but not limited to, the ‘new’ drivers. There no longer seems to be the camaraderie among drivers as before, and courtesy, consideration and etiquette are in short supply. I frequently see truck drivers fail to use signals when lane changing or making left/right turns, and hardly any driver uses 4 ways now when backing up!! .. lighting systems (heads/tails etc) are frequently not turned on in the rain, fog, sleet, snow, dusk, dawn etc, and don’t get me going on about parking skills and etiquette at truck stops, fuel lanes, rest areas, shippers docks etc. So many drivers (trucks and 4 wheelers alike) don’t come from a ‘driving culture’ background and the actions and attitude of drivers out on the road shows this. Driving schools and trucking companies need to spend some time teaching new drivers some common courtesies and considerations, instead of the bare minimum to pass a drive test, if they did, it might be less stressful for all of us out there on the roads.

  • Since the 80’s the Industry has had a image problem, and the issue persists to this day. During the 50 and 60’s fathers and mothers worked hard so they’re children could choose something better than trucking or hair-dressing labors or food personal. From the 80’s till now parents told there kids if you don’t go to school then get ready to be a trucker or hair stylist. So the problem lies within the credentials, the need to make it a Trade. and put the heart and mind to this vocation cause the back bone has always been within the Industry. That’s my view and opinion. From an Old Road Hammer