Meet Margot, Justin and Randy

by Carroll McCormick

MONCTON, N.B. – Hustling to prepare supper and feed her children, Margot Griffin counts down to the start of another night shift for Moncton, N.B.-based Armour Transport. She will haul loads around the Maritimes all night before returning home to grab some sleep and then take her children to school.

Waiting his turn at a Kraft Foods warehouse in Dover, Delaware, Justin MacCallum, a driver for Moncton-based Keltic Transportation, watches the clouds roll in. His wife and constant travel companion Rebekah plays on the bunk bed with Lucy, their Chihuahua-Yorkshire dog.

Rolling past Saint-Liboire, an hour’s drive east of Montreal, Randy Delaney is well into his sixteenth day on the road. Driving a 2007 Freightliner Columbia, he’s hauling a load of frozen food to Bay Roberts, Nfld. for Berwick, N.S.-based Eassons Transport.

These three drivers share a common story: They were highly motivated to get into the industry, and willing carriers and some government funding helped them on their way. They also represent non-traditional sources for talent that carriers today can scarcely afford to overlook.

Women drivers are still thin on the ground and some fleets are uncomfortable with the idea of having them in their rigs. So are some drivers.

“One driver said to me, ‘A woman has no business driving a truck.’ I told him in no uncertain terms that I had the same right to put food on my table as everyone else,” Griffin recalls.

Griffin used to work with Canada Post, but delivery route changes forced her to hunt for higher-paying work. She got her Class 5 and headed to Alberta to get some experience, including rumbling around downtown Calgary in a gravel truck. When she returned to Charlottetown, PEI, she decided to train for her Class 1, but first she called some carriers to learn more about the long-haul scene.

“With some of them I felt I was wasting my time. One PEI company came right out and said I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Griffin says.

Near the end of her call list was Morley Annear in Brudenell, PEI. Company dispatcher Scott Annear picked up the phone and they chatted for nearly an hour.

“She asked me many questions about the life, the type of work, everything. I was so impressed with her that I told her that when she finished her course, to come see me,” Annear says.

With the help of some employment insurance funds, Griffin signed up at the JVI Provincial Transportation and Safety Academy in Charlottetown.

“Morley was very encouraging and said to call him when I got my licence. I got it on a Thursday, called him on Friday, drove with him on Saturday and started working for him on Monday,” Griffin recalls.

 “I hired her on the spot,” Annear adds. The company is well-known to Brian Oulton, executive director, PEI Trucking Sector Council (PEITSC) for its welcoming attitude toward women. One PEITSC initiative is called Drive Your Career – Getting Women in the Driver’s Seat. The goal is to attract more women to school bus, agriculture and over-the-road careers, part- and full-time.

“We face similar manpower issues as elsewhere, but we have a lot smaller pool to draw from. Most women that we attract with that campaign are looking for local work. However, a small group that has come through has gone on to long-haul and regional truck driving. We have had a couple of companies that are really good at hiring women and one of those is Morley Annear,” Oulton says.

MacCallum was nearing the last of his options when he contacted Keltic. He had been shopping around for a fleet that would train him or possibly provide some funding so he could attend the Commercial Safety College in Masstown, N.S.

“I was just looking for anyone to help me get funding, or just basically put me behind the wheel of a truck. When employment insurance (Service Canada) couldn’t help me, I had nowhere to turn to.”

Hitting brick walls with other carriers, he e-mailed Keltic from its Web site. Elaine Sode, manager of safety and driver relations, caught the note. Impressed, she checked in with Kelly Henderson, executive director, Trucking Human Resource Sector Council (THRSC), in Truro, N.S., where she lives. Henderson confirmed that funding was available through its One Journey program. When she asked Sode if she would consider MacCallum for an internship if he was accepted, Sode answered, “Absolutely.”

The One Journey program, which has been operating in partnership with THRSC since 2006, takes people with social and economic disadvantages and puts them through professional truck driving school.

“These people aren’t attached to the Unemployment Insurance system and do not have the financial resources to train as drivers without financial help,” Henderson explains.

“A couple of carriers were willing to put me in another truck with a driver, and I might have been able to get a licence that way, but no one would have hired me without the course. THRSC funded the course for me and helped with all the paperwork to get in. They talked back and forth with Keltic about the internship and helped me get through the door,” MacCallum recalls.

The people at THRSC were keen to work with the driving school to accommodate a disability that limits the use of MacCallum’s right hand, but he refused.

“I wouldn’t let them. I wanted to use the manual transmission.” Keltic did give him an automatic, but Sode shrugs that off as no different from other items on any new driver’s get-ready list.

Delaney represents a growing group: people in their 40s and 50s, knocking on carriers’ doors, casting about for a new career. Delaney was in a pickle though, out of work in Truro and in no position to drop big dollars on a driving course.

“It is hard to wake up one morning without a job after 23 years, with a family, house and then take a chance on spending $9,000 just for the chance to get into the business,” he explains.

Delaney tapped into another THRSC program called Targeted Initiative for Older Workers (TIOW) for funding help. Launched in 2009, TIOW removes barriers to employment for people age 55 and over. Delaney, 51, laughs that he must have looked older the day he applied for TIOW funding.

He approached Eassons, who pre-screened him, liked what they saw and wrote him a letter of intent.

“The letter of intent is really valuable. It means, ‘We’re willing to look at you, put you in a truck with one of our coaches. Once that is done we’ll consider you for a position.’ For me it meant I had a chance if I studied hard, minded my Ps and Qs, that I actually could go out and get a full-time job,” Delaney says.

That letter was key to getting THRSC funding and his ticket to a job with Eassons, provided his schooling at the Commercial Safety College in Masstown went well.

“If we give out a letter of intent to a potential driver, we pretty much guarantee that we will give that person a job if they meet the pre-employment screening requirements,” says Trevor Bent, human resources manager, Eassons.

A big supporter of One Journey and TIOW since they began, Eassons has hired 16 drivers from the programs to date. THRSC funding throws open doors, but THRSC also helps students overcome difficulties they may have.

“We remove potential barriers to getting in the door. Many people who are not connected to the industry may be intimidated making the first step, or may not be interview-ready for industry. We work with the candidate to ensure they have the skills to take the first steps,” Henderson explains.

Bent gives an example of one of the ways Eassons helps prepare drivers for their new careers. “Some lack the confidence to venture out on their own right away. In these cases we’ve given some employees more local work or extra weeks in the coaching program. It is all about helping those individuals who want to get involved in the industry succeed.”

As for physical disabilities, Bent notes, “Last week we hired a broker who lost an arm 20 years ago. He is successful in both flatdeck and reefer work. We are extremely happy to have him join our team.”

Sode didn’t know about MacCallum’s hand until he showed up for work, and she didn’t care. “The school coach said he did well and that’s good enough for me. We have a lot of automatic trucks. Plus, it’s one less thing for drivers to worry about.”

Sode has no issue with older drivers either. “I’m not afraid to hire them. The only thing I see that could be different is the possibility of a physical condition. Five years or 25 years left in them, it’s all the same to me. The older ones seldom leave me to go to another trucking company.”

The value and the rewards of the THRSC programs are obvious, Bent declares: “These programs help open the doors for both the candidate and us. It’s win-win.”

It’s still a rough road for women wanting to break into the trade, but Annear, who has hired and trained many women, observes: “It is still an old boy’s club. I know people who resent women driving, but it is changing for the better all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still rare. But the more we get women out doing the job, the better off we are.”

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