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Driver to CEO

OTTAWA, Ont. - The for-hire truckload industry can be described as fiercely competitive, fundamentally complex and physically demanding. In such a challenging environment, management can become so inu...

CLIMBING THE CORPORATE LADDER: A career path will help drivers find their way to other positions in the company, including positions of president or CEO.
CLIMBING THE CORPORATE LADDER: A career path will help drivers find their way to other positions in the company, including positions of president or CEO.

OTTAWA, Ont. – The for-hire truckload industry can be described as fiercely competitive, fundamentally complex and physically demanding. In such a challenging environment, management can become so inundated with regulatory and equipment-related issues that human resource strategy gets neglected.

Career paths for drivers are a case in point.

When The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, a think tank associated with North Dakota State University, conducted a survey of 736 drivers from 11 different companies about job satisfaction and retention, it found a strong desire among drivers for a career path that enabled them to pursue other positions within the company.

In general, respondents would have lower intentions to leave their organizations and higher commitment to their companies if their job of driver was changed to include greater developmental opportunities.

In fact 60 per cent or more of surveyed drivers indicated that a career path would make them more satisfied with their job, less likely to quit, put forth more effort, be more loyal, tell others about their company and feel more committed to a future with their company.

Yet when the Upper Great Plains study looked at managers’ perceptions of drivers’ attitudes it found that while managers understood the psychological nature of the job, many lacked a good appreciation of the growth needs of drivers.

For instance, only 38 per cent of managers thought drivers would be interested in working in other areas of the business in addition to driving but in actual fact 62 per cent of drivers indicated they were.

Linda Gauthier, managing director for the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC), says the trucking business has to some extent resisted taking a hard look at the basic practices that will make a difference.

“The industry is inundated with so many issues and challenges from the regulatory side that some companies become overwhelmed by them and because HR practices are not regulatory, they are not making a priority of it,” says Gauthier. “They are putting out so many other fires without realizing that dealing with some of the HR issues may help address some other issues as well.”

She agrees that career paths serve an important purpose in the trucking industry.

“Some companies have adopted a career path strategy and those who have, see a lower level of turnover among their drivers than those companies who haven’t,” says Gauthier. “To build a good company you have to implement good human resource practices.”

You don’t have to convince Evan MacKinnon, CEO of MacKinnon Transport Inc. in Guelph, Ont. He began his calling as a driver and says career paths play a role in both driver retention issues and job satisfaction.

“Career paths are definitely one aspect to driver retention,” says MacKinnon. “It’s like any job, if an employee knows there is no opportunity for advancement then there’s not a lot to look forward to.”

In The Upper Great Plains study drivers reported they were capable of assuming other business responsibilities and interested in a variety of different job tasks in addition to driving.

According to the survey results, drivers were receptive to cross training, which would integrate them into other aspects of the business, feeling a career path would allow them to contribute more to the company.

Einwechter says it is a matter of management identifying the talent and the driver wanting to explore that talent.

In Steinbach, Man., Big Freight Systems’ vice-president, Earl Coleman, agrees there must be input from both sides.

“We listen to our drivers, but to begin with, it is really up to them to express an interest and to look for the opportunities that appeal to them,” says Coleman, who began his career as a driver with his family business.

He says the most important variable is the driver’s desire to move to a different position, and adds it is important that managers communicate with their drivers.

“We shouldn’t be trying to convince drivers to take on other roles within the company, nor should we necessarily be developing drivers into something other than the best possible drivers,” says Coleman. “There is a net shortage of drivers in this industry and in some cases a shortage of star performers, and we want to develop all of our drivers into star performers.”

At the same time, he says, if the underlying desire for something else is there with the drivers, and there is an opportunity then management should most definitely promote and encourage them to pursue it.

This is why, he adds, it is crucial to have open lines of communication between drivers and management in regards to the driver’s desires and career path.

Einwechter says there isn’t a lack of caring or commitment from management’s point of view, but instead, it is on many occasions, the harsh reality of the situation.

“It is tough because often a company may only have one or two driver trainer or dispatcher positions available at one time but perhaps have 50 drivers interested in taking on another responsibility within the company, but we can’t forget that not everyone is interested in taking on a different role,” Einwechter says.

The Upper Great Plains study says that 81 per cent of drivers surveyed indicated that they feel not all drivers would want to move through an entire career path.

This is good since there likely is not enough room at the top within the company for those drivers with enough experience, skill and desire to take on another position.

MacKinnon, Coleman and Einwechter all feel that their experience driving has given them the ability to understand and relate to their drivers’ needs today.

MacKinnon suggests that drivers who are interested in moving through their companies and taking on more responsibility or different roles altogether must be sure to convey their intentions to their management team.

They must also be patient and willing to identify the necessary training needed and accept the training where it is available, he says.

Whenever possible, says Coleman, drivers should spend some time inside the office with the department they are interested in joining. He adds that basic office skills are often an asset and show dedication to the intention to pursue another aspect of the business.

He adds that the transition from behind the wheel to behind the desk may be smoother for the younger generation because they tend to have a higher education and the skill sets needed are already in place in many cases. Unlike their parents’ generation, they have grown up with the technology that is being used today in offices and businesses.

Einwechter says it is important to be continuously building on a knowledge base, which he says is even possible while on the road through Internet courses and research.

Another important consideration, he says, is to be sure to see the broader picture. He suggests that the driver take note of the shipper’s perspective, the dispatcher’s perspective, the maintenance supervisor’s perspective in order to better understand how and why the decisions are being made the way they are.

Meanwhile, the CTHRC is preparing Canadian-based research on human resource issues with a five-part project, which includes a section on driver retention. Gauthier says this component will help identify the reasons why drivers leave a company, and the reasons that they may stay.

“We are hoping that this study, which will be available in June, 2003, will provide strong industry facts because before a business will invest in an approach to human resource practices, they want to see a business case developed,” says Gauthier.

She adds that by having the data behind decisions, drivers will be able to better see the big picture, and research their opportunities.

Gauthier says business skills courses are a good way to enhance the skills that many drivers have already acquired through their work.

The industry offers lots of opportunities for drivers to migrate into other avenues of the company. Provided that drivers communicate their objectives and research their opportunities, there is
a strong potential for a successful and rewarding career.

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