OTTAWA, Ont. - Like the goalie to a hockey team, the air traffic controller to a runway or the lead actor to a movie, the dispatcher is often that same lifeline to a trucker.The job of a dispatcher en...
OTTAWA, Ont. – Like the goalie to a hockey team, the air traffic controller to a runway or the lead actor to a movie, the dispatcher is often that same lifeline to a trucker.
The job of a dispatcher entails such a wide range of duties. The dispatcher has to deal with the high-pressure corporate side of the gig as well as the nurturing side.
Whether it’s performing planning or operational tasks, monitoring loads, dealing with clients or helping the driver find his way en route, the dispatcher is on the front line.
Not only do their decisions dictate the driver’s course of day, but their attitude is instrumental in driver retention and is a key link to the number and quality of a driver’s hours and therefore, pay.
Craig Whittaker, operations manager for Seaboard Liquid Carriers in Dartmouth, N.S., has had the opportunity to see dispatch action from the control room and from the supervisor’s chair.
“The dispatcher is the focus in every organization. The ability to make decisions quickly and accurately is key because the decisions you make as a dispatcher will directly affect someone out there,” Whittaker says.
With the amount of pressure a dispatcher experiences, job training becomes an issue of utmost importance.
“A successful trucking company is held together by its dispatchers, and if we don’t have them (dispatchers), we can’t move the load. So these people need training,” says Kim Richardson, president of KRTS Transportation Specialists in Caledonia, Ont.
Richardson’s school offers a dispatcher training program that includes an in-class component that covers the basics – log books, rules of the road, air brakes and the like.
Then a computer based component that covers topics like preventive maintenance and hours-of-service. He then includes an in-truck component because, Richardson says, a dispatcher has to know what a driver goes through.
“The better they know what it’s like to be a driver, the better dispatchers they’ll be,” he says.
The final component to the KRTS program is an extensive modulated daily dispatcher simulator, which is also computer-based. KRTS recently teamed up with Link Logistics to create additional training modules that incorporate daily dispatch applications like loadlink, linkdispatch and ProMiles.
“We have to get these people live experience, so this is the internship part of our training. The carrier companies we work with basically built the program and we just tweaked it, I mean what better way to develop something than to go to the people who use it and need it?” says Richardson.
The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) has developed two training programs designed as professional development for existing dispatchers.
The CTHRC created an industry standard, which describes what type of responsibilities a dispatcher may have to perform, or situations they may encounter, and its training programs have been developed with these guidelines in mind.
Professional skills training for dispatchers and interpersonal skills training for dispatchers are the two courses available through the CTHRC. Both programs are offered online and via CD-ROM. They evolved through a program called Flex School which allows the user to study small bits of information, do some exercises and then write quizzes to see if the information was understood.
Neil Pritchard, vice-president of human resources and risk management for Yanke Group of Companies in Saskatoon, says a lot of companies do much of their dispatcher training on the job, and perhaps don’t take advantage of the training opportunities that are out there.
“This ‘just-in-time training’ seems to be more effective. There are e-learning courses available now and there are options out there,” says Pritchard.
Pritchard’s dispatcher staff recently experienced a different form of training. It was an unusual sort of training, says Pritchard, but very enlightening and very necessary.
Dan Baker, a nationally renowned speaker, teacher and consultant for the trucking industry from Texas spent a week with Pritchard’s staff discussing and preaching about the relationship and people side of the industry.
“A big part of being a dispatcher is that you have to be a momma or a daddy or a coach or a financial advisor or a babysitter, all while doing your job. We all have to take care of the customer, but we can’t unless we take care of the driver, and that means dispatchers have to have the ability to look after the driver from both an operational side as well as the emotional side,” says Baker.
In his speeches and stand up acts, he re-inforces concepts such as anger and conflict management, organization dynamics, relationship building and perception with the underlying theme that the human factor takes precedence over all technical or company requirements.
Pritchard worries because many trucking companies are using wireless technology products that can create a completely automated operation, which would eliminate the personal touch.
But Baker says that will never happen.
“As long as there are people there will be human interaction, and the people are the primary resource of a company so it is critical that people skills are fine-tuned,” he says.
It is certainly a matter of fine-tuning, he says.
“You have to be able to strike a balance between the hard and the soft. You have to be able to tell them to go to hell but still make them look forward to the trip,” says Baker.
Linda Gauthier, managing director for the CTHRC, says although the hard, technical skills are very important, it is the soft, people skills that often suffer.
“The job not only requires someone who has a logistical aptitude, an ability to multi-task and deal with high levels of stress, but also someone who is sensitive, empathetic and a good listener,” she says.
The 20-hour CTHRC programs address both aspects however, Gauthier says, she would like to see more dispatcher training programs become available.
“There are a couple community colleges that offer a full dispatch program, however they are few and far between,” says Gauthier.
Whittaker agrees there should be a formal college training program because dispatch is a professional job, he says, and because it requires such a vast spectrum of skills.
“It’s a great job. It’s just like trying to put a big puzzle together,” says Whittaker, “and every day there are different pieces to the puzzle and they each fit a little differently.”
For more information contact: Linda Gauthier at the CTHRC at 613-244-4800, Kim Richardson at KRTS at 905-765-3445 or Dan Baker at 800-460-3288.