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Career Path Key to Driver Retention: Craigen

EDMONTON, Alta. - When drivers look at their future do they see a career path or a roadblock? The answer could make the difference between a long-term employee and one more notch added to the number of drivers exiting the industry, says Roy Craige...

EDMONTON, Alta. – When drivers look at their future do they see a career path or a roadblock? The answer could make the difference between a long-term employee and one more notch added to the number of drivers exiting the industry, says Roy Craigen, general manager of Transcom, a consulting company in Edmonton, Alta. and chairman of the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council (CTHRC).

While the driver shortage grabs all the media attention, what people in search of a solution lose sight of are frustrated 35-year-old truckers, according to Craigen.

“They were attracted to the business because of the freedom, the adventure, the equipment. But by the time they are 35 years old, the shine has worn off the industry. They now have 15 years of experience and are at the top of their game, but instead of feeling that way they look over the horizon and see that they have more hassles, border congestion, and static pay ahead of themselves. They realize they still have 30 years of this and they feel stuck,” said Craigen.

What was just an irritant in their 20s grows into a problem by their 30s, said Craigen. So much so that the job itself seems a roadblock and the frustration of paying bills, sending kids to school, and providing a life for the family starts to creep into their long term thinking. And the end result too often is the driver leaving the industry, he said.

Yet a career path in trucking is possible for the men and women behind the wheel. In fact, many of the industry’s company owners, executives and managers began their careers as drivers, said Craigen.

“We didn’t have it packaged as a product in earlier years and really what we are doing now is saying let’s use these best-case examples to demonstrate how a career path is achievable within a company and promote it as an asset,” he said.

It’s all about having options, he added. “If a career path can say here is an option for you, even though many wouldn’t take that option, just knowing it is there would satisfy a lot of drivers today,” Craigen said.

Paul Murphy, a shorthaul dispatcher for Big Freight Systems who began his career as a driver, is a good example of how options can make or break a long-term employee.

“Every company will have its own policies and procedures and once you get to know them in one role it is easier and more comfortable to move within that company because you know how it operates. So for a driver, knowing that he could move around within the company will help with job satisfaction and even driver retention,” said Murphy.

Murphy was one of those drivers who knew what he wanted – to move into a different role while remaining an employee with Big Freight Systems.

“I was happy as a driver but I always had aspirations to take on another role. It was more a way to get to where I wanted to go rather than the final destination itself,” said Murphy, who recently won the 2004 Dispatcher of the Year Award at the Canadian Recruitment and Retention event held in Toronto, Ont.

Murphy said driving for seven years prior to becoming a dispatcher almost four years ago, has helped him deal with drivers’ concerns better and understand the intricacies of the operation.

“I definitely feel that my driving experience has helped me understand not only the physical elements of the job, like how to secure a load properly but the mental side of it too, like being away from home for days on end,” said Murphy. “That stuff you can’t sit in a classroom and learn from an instructor, because the instructor that could actually teach that to you is out on the road doing it for himself.”

In fact, ex-drivers are cropping up in all areas of trucking.

“We have seven ex-drivers in our linehaul operations, two ex-drivers in logistics, one ex-driver in our sales department, five ex-drivers hold senior management positions and two ex-drivers manage in our outside warehousing business,” said Ray Haight, president and COO of MacKinnon Transport.

The opportunities are there for drivers to advance through different roles within the company, said Kelly Henderson, executive director of the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council based in Truro, N.S.

“We see shortages at all levels of the company but driver shortage is our key area of concern. However, there is a link between the two, because we do see movement of personnel from behind the wheel to behind the desk,” said Henderson.

Craigen said those who come into trucking management positions through a sound operational background appear more successful than those who come into the management positions through a strictly academic background. They are simply more believable in the eyes of the driver group, he argued.

And the on-the-job learning never has to end. Murphy is complementing his practical experience with an academic education. He is working on a logistics certificate from the University of Manitoba as well as his CITT certification, which should be finished by late spring. However when he finishes these courses, he isn’t going to stop there.

“I think it’s so important to keep up with learning about our industry because if you don’t learn the stuff, someone else is going to do it first and that is really our only competitive edge – to do it first,” said Murphy. “All of a company’s services can be so closely mirrored by another trucking company so you have to set your self apart and keep ahead of the pack and I think one way of doing that is by educating yourself.”

Murphy recommends starting in the industry as a driver and moving on from there.

“It worked for me and so I would suggest going out and getting in the truck and learning some of the text book stuff while you’re there because by combining practical and academic learning, it sets you up to come out ahead,” he said.

Craigen agreed there is a place and time for mobile learning.

“We have to repackage the delivery of education in order to accommodate lifestyle,” he said.

The trucking industry just isn’t going to see drivers taking five years off to go to school because they have families to look after and want to make a living. And the days of a driver going to work for a company for 40 years are over too, Craigen said.

“The work expectancy for a driver in a company now is under five years, so if by providing education while driving will get someone to give six to 10 years to a company then they would be a strong contributor to the industry and a good ambassador,” he said.

The army has used post secondary education incentives to attract people for years, so the trucking industry can be just as creative and use this to give drivers an option, Craigen added. But for that to happen, schools, government and industry have to work together, he warned.

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