CALGARY, Alta. – Robert Nogier of Claresholm, Alta. has been driving truck since he was 15 years old. Trucking is in his blood and he never planned on doing anything else.
“I thought I’d get old and at some point in time I’d die in my sleep in the truck,” Nogier said. “I figured that if I was going to die anywhere, it was probably going to be in the truck.”
But that all changed two years ago when he fell off his truck while on a run to Chicago. He broke his right wrist in the fall, and did serious damage to the left wrist as well. Now at the tender age of 37, he’s been told by doctors he can never drive truck again – and he doesn’t know what to do next.
Nogier has invested his entire life in trucking and he would love to stay in the business in some capacity or another. However everywhere he turns he is being turned away since all of his experience was gleaned on the road – not in the office.
“I’ve been phoning trucking companies all over the place and there’s just nothing happening,” lamented Nogier. “They want you to have all sorts of special training. Most of these people want you to have gone through a bunch of schooling. It’s very, very difficult.”
Nogier’s story isn’t unique. Each year truckers like him must give up their passion for driving due to illness or injury. If you’ve spent your entire career behind the wheel, it’s not always easy to find a company that’s willing to help you make the transition to office work.
Linda Gauthier, managing director of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) has seen it before. She said one option worth exploring for truckers who are no longer able to drive is dispatch.
“One of the studies we did a few years ago indicated there is going to be a shortage of dispatchers,” pointed out Gauthier.
The CTHRC has developed two online programs former drivers can consider taking. One deals with the interpersonal skills required by dispatchers while the other focuses more on the operational side of the business. Gauthier said it’s worth thinking about for ex-drivers that want to remain in the trucking industry.
“If the dispatcher has the right skills and the right attitude, then very often a lot of drivers will be more confident with a dispatcher that has been a driver because there’s a level of understanding there,” Gauthier said.
She also encourages drivers to visit the Ontario Trucking Association’s Career Highways Web site at www.ontruck.org/careers/ to explore other possibilities.
“It talks about all of the occupations that are available in the industry,” explained Gauthier. “There are lots of occupations within the industry that the majority of people don’t even consider.”
Roy Craigen, coach and general manager with Transportation Coach of Operations and Management (Transcom) said it’s best for drivers to begin thinking of alternatives to driving before they’re forced to make the switch.
He urges drivers to seek out carriers that offer a continuous learning culture within the organization.
“If I was a professional driver today, I would say ‘What’s in it for me besides a paycheck and 500 miles a day?'” asked Craigen. “I’m only one drive away from my back giving out or my eyes not being as strong as they once were.”
Craigen is a huge proponent of continuous learning and he tells drivers to consider the cab of their truck a potential classroom. With WIFI Internet access growing in popularity, distance education is easier than ever for truckers to participate in.
“Instead of spending your mandatory 36-hour reset wondering why you’re in trucking, invest some of that downtime into the rest of your life so that you don’t end up in that situation down the road where you do not have your skills upgraded when you can’t drive anymore,” said Craigen.
For those who do find themselves in a situation where they’re no longer able to drive and don’t have the educational background to work in an office environment, there are options.
Craigen pointed out Prior Learning Assessments have gained credibility in recent years. These assessments review the life skills gained by an individual during the course of his or her career, which serves as a confidence booster while also demonstrating to potential employers that those years behind the wheel haven’t gone to waste.
“Their life skills carry legitimate value in relation to new careers,” insisted Craigen. “Life skills are as strong or stronger than traditional compressed classroom environments – that is what science is saying.”
The other option is to pursue a course that focuses on bringing an experienced driver up to speed on the workings of the office and positions him or her to become a manager or supervisor. Transcom offers a new 35-chapter course aimed at doing just that which is tailored to the needs of professional drivers seeking employment as managers and supervisors.
Craigen said carriers should promote a continuous learning culture so their drivers are able to fill other roles within the company if they are no longer able to drive due to illness or injury. Simply allowing drivers the opportunity to make presentations on safety or other driving-related topics to their peers can go a long way towards helping them develop new skills that can be used down the road.
“For all the guys who haven’t hit that wall yet (of no longer being able to drive), let’s start doing something about them,” said Craigen. “Let’s look at continuous learning outside the task of driving.”
Truckers who are passionate about the industry are a valuable commodity, yet when they try to remain in the industry in a non-driving capacity they often find the door being shut in their face.
“Trucking is what I know,” said Nogier. “My whole life has involved trucking. I don’t like slowing down and I’m not one who likes to sit around doing nothing.”