Dispatchers ensure trucks keep rolling

As millions of trucks travel on North American highways toward their destinations, people are huddled behind computer screens and talking on phones day and night, planning, monitoring, and solving problems as they arise.

Dispatchers must manage traffic to ensure customer service goals are met while steering relationships with drivers and customers. They must ensure that supply chains are not disrupted.

 Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont. is old school and likes to have all the paperwork on a wall with folders, where orders and driver names are inserted. (Photo: Leo Barros)
Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont. is old school and likes to have all the paperwork on a wall with folders, where orders and driver names are inserted. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Excellent communication skills, empathy and a calm demeanor are just a few qualities essential for the role.

Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont. says working as a truck driver for more than 10 years has helped with his dispatching career.

“You can relate with what the driver is going through. Drivers have a different respect for you when they know you’ve been out there,” says Turnbull, recipient of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s Rick Austin Memorial Dispatcher of the Year award.

Things happen in trucking, there are layovers and delays. “The drivers and company are relying on you. You must provide timely updates to your customers,” says Harpreet Kaur, operations manager at Trilink Logistics in Bolton, Ont.

Harpreet Kaur, operations manager at Trilink Logistics in Bolton, Ont. says drivers and the company relies on dispatchers. (Photo: Leo Barros)
Harpreet Kaur, operations manager at Trilink Logistics in Bolton, Ont. says drivers and the company relies on dispatchers. (Photo: Leo Barros)

You must enjoy your job when you choose dispatching as a career, says Jason Ragoo, terminal manager at Polaris Transportation in Mississauga, Ont. “It’s very fast paced, I love the pace and I love the challenge,” says Ragoo, who emphasizes the importance of attention to detail and communication.

Steve Bishop, professor of supply chain management at Centennial College says dispatchers must be factual, trustworthy, and honest with everybody. “Communication is key. You have to communicate with management about process improvements to increase efficiency. When issues come up, dispatchers must make sure the drivers are aware of them,” he says.

Bishop says supply chain management courses and programs provide students with the knowledge to be a transportation dispatcher and provide an overall knowledge of supply chains. He says many students taking these courses have no work experience. They secure entry-level roles in companies and work their way up.

Kaur earned her diploma in supply chain management in 2017. She began working after hours at Trilink, transitioned into dispatch and now is the operations manager.

Jason Ragoo, terminal manager at Polaris Transportation in Mississauga, Ont. says dispatchers must pay attention to details. (Photo: Leo Barros)
Jason Ragoo, terminal manager at Polaris Transportation in Mississauga, Ont. says dispatchers must pay attention to details. (Photo: Leo Barros)

“Drivers are the assets of the company, you must make sure they are happy and also keep customers happy,” Kaur says.

Turnbull says he empathizes with his drivers and offers an equal playing field.

“I try to keep it at a friend level to a certain point. Sometimes have to put your foot down and say this has to happen. I don’t have to do that here. Drivers are willing to go that extra mile,” Turnbull says.

“You have to be personable, understanding, and have a heart for people. Each driver has a different situation, you have to understand that. You can dispatch them in a way that works out best for everybody,” he says.

“I call it the stress bowl. Organizing 45 drivers is like trying to organize a pail of minnows.”

Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation

Ragoo joined Polaris as a forklift operator 10 years ago and moved up through the ranks. He has no formal education in logistics or transportation. He has worked as a dispatcher, dispatch manager and was recently promoted to terminal manager. “It is possible to learn on job, it is a lot of hard work,” he says.

Turnbull says he tries not to take his work home, “but I am pretty much 24/7.” He carries an after-hours office phone with him. “I don’t mind helping the guys out. The drivers are pretty conscious about it, and don’t call unless they really need to,” he says.

Kaur says she sometimes attends to work calls and emails after hours, and sometimes she starts work early.

“I don’t mind doing it because I love doing it. We have 75 trucks, and they are always on the road. It’s trucking, things happen,” she says.

Steve Bishop, professor of supply chain management at Centennial College. (Photo: Supplied)
Steve Bishop, professor of supply chain management at Centennial College. (Photo: Supplied)

Stress is part and parcel of the job.

“I call it the stress bowl,” Turnbull says. “Organizing 45 drivers is like trying to organize a pail of minnows. Everybody wants to go the opposite way, but you got to keep calm and cool. The calmer you are, the calmer they are.

“There are certain things that can’t be resolved, and you can’t take that to heart. Sometimes you just can’t win. All you can do is do your best and keep trying.”

For Turnbull, playing drums is a good way to get rid of stress. The band he is part of has shut down due to the pandemic, but he’s looking forward to performing in public as things open.

Work-life balance

Kaur says she doesn’t think she destresses after leaving work. “I am always involved. I know you need to separate your work and family life. I try to make sure before leaving things have calmed down. Some things you can’t control.”

Bishop says a work-life balance is required to avoid stress but is difficult to achieve. “Don’t take anything personal, leave it at a professional level. Make sure management provides you with the resources you need to do your job effectively,” he says.

Why would a person choose this career? “Why not?” asks Ragoo. “It makes you feel good to do a good job. It’s not I worked, and I went home, it is I worked, I made a difference.”

Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at leo@newcom.ca

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  • Dispatching is a difficult job and I am happy to see there are some courses out there that can be accessed. There needs to be as I worked for 18 years with a company and usually worked well with the organization, but in the end ran across a dispatcher that should have known better as she came up through the system but had favorites and unfaviorites. I was not liked and after 5 months parked the trucks .
    I am not the only one and now that companies are getting larger and dispatch is becoming so remote it is even worse. If the wheels don’t turn no one is making any money, but it has to be a team effort including management that has to monitor things and remove the hiccup that is causing problems as everyone is paying the price.

  • I have attended some of these Logistics courses and the only thing it reminded me of was Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. So out of touch with reality.

  • As a cross border dispatcher and experienced driver I can say being in their seat makes a whole lot of difference. Both myself and co-worker have been in their shoes unlike dispatchers who have never been out on the road. We see the terrain, cities, truck stops and traffic. I believe every dispatcher who manages long haul should experience a minimum 2 day trip to give them an in your face experience, Then their thinking will change and your drivers will respect you.