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On-Road Editor: The Crucial Link

EDMONTON, Alta. - Dispatchers have always been the lynchpin for a successful trucking operation.

EDMONTON, Alta. – Dispatchers have always been the lynchpin for a successful trucking operation.

But rapid industry-wide changes in the past decade have made their job descriptions more complex than ever.

The dispatcher is not just someone matching loads to equipment. This is the first point of contact between drivers and management, and the key to effective movement of power units and loads. Above all, dispatchers are the essential interface between customers and your company.

The ideal dispatcher should be a problem solver: quick thinking and computer literate, able to multi-task in a fast-paced environment, and have good short and long term memory skills. Good people-handling skills are essential for this position, and he or she must be able to remain calm and in control at all times.

But today’s dispatcher also has to be up-to-speed on a plethora of other topics, including hours of service regulations, logbooks and trip sheets, border crossing procedures and customs documents, safety and compensation issues, hazardous material documentation, as well as privacy, sexual harassment and human rights legislation.

On top of all this, they are expected to coach rookie drivers, occasionally take disciplinary action, motivate senior drivers and provide guidance to employees during emergency situations.

Transport companies streamline their dispatch department to suit service needs. A large international carrier may divide the duties among order takers, dispatchers and trip planners, while a smaller company might expect their dispatcher to cover a wider range of tasks.

Rebel Heart Trucking of Edmonton, Alta. operates about 20 trucks full time in the three western provinces hauling gravel and water. Dispatcher Randy Keeping gets involved in all aspects of the business including billing and customer service. But his primary focus is getting equipment to the customer as quickly as possible.

“I might have five drivers going to 10 or 12 job sites in the same day,” says Keeping. “It’s a lot like P&D work except our freight is gravel.”

Scarborough, Ont.’s OK Transportation has about 250 owner/operators and company drivers, the bulk of which are contracted to companies around the GTA. To directly service its Canadian Tire account, its has installed a dispatch office in CTC’s Brampton, Ont. distribution centre, while its open board is still run out of its Scarborough terminal.

A big shift in OK’s operations occurred in February 2004 when its closed its U.S. lanes and decided to run Canada-wide instead.

“Most of our U.S.-bound loads were steady customers but now we use Load Link for all our western freight,” says head dispatcher Glen Gray. “I have one computer that I leave on all the time. I post where my trucks are going to be and an alarm goes off when something becomes available in the area.”

Gray has over 100 trucks to look after every day. About 30 of them work on the open board in the GTA covering extra contract work, 10 are connected by satellite and running the western provinces, another couple are dedicated to the Montreal Toronto corridor, and two run Toronto to St. John’s weekly for a noted Canadian shoe manufacturer. As well, Gray oversees the work of about 40 to 60 contract trucks every day.

Gray works about 12 hours a day, five days a week. And when he’s on call he takes the cell phone and his job home with him. “I do get great satisfaction out of this job,” he says. “Some days everything lines up and the revenue is there. But there are a few when you can’t wait for the pain to end.”

“The dispatcher is your front line supervisor,” says Transcom president Roy Craigen. Transcom is an Edmonton-based transportation training/consulting firm that provides a dispatcher/supervisor course for companies involved in trucking. The 60-hour, eight-day course covers 40 topics and is delivered in two-day sessions.

“And it’s important to bring the highest standard to the profession,” says Craigen. “Typically, a dispatcher is a driver who hurt his back or got tired of driving. A former driver brings a huge amount of knowledge to the table but knows nothing about human rights, privacy issues and coaching techniques.”

The course includes issues tutorials on fleet motivation, customer service failure, discipline, recruiting, the National Safety Code, and customs and border crossing.

“We offer concrete scenarios and teach them what effect they have on the rest of the office,” says Craigen. “The dispatch is a noisy place and there’s a lot of stress. It’s almost unheard of for a dispatcher to take a run at a customer. But if a dispatcher takes a run at a driver and the driver brings those bad feelings to the customer, it has the same negative effect.”

Craigen thinks that dispatching could even be a good stepping-stone to a management posting. “The dispatch position is one of the highest upwardly mobile positions in trucking. If you’re good at dispatching you can get promoted.”

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