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In praise of good mentorship programs


The dry swirling snow had packed itself under my rig. The steady growl of the truck’s diesel engine, muffled by the snow, was now a low hum. The road in front of me was a ribbon of unbroken snow. The world had taken on a dream-like quality in the falling snow. The trees on the mountainside were completely wrapped in blankets of white. Solitary, peaceful, and surreal.

It was a perfect night as I cut through almost a foot of fresh snow climbing the last few kilometres to Rogers Pass.

This is when it dawned on me that I had not seen any cars, plows, or trucks since I had pulled out of Revelstoke. I was alone. Was I supposed to be out here? Had I missed a road closure sign in the snow? At this point I didn’t care. I had the perfect heavy load for the conditions. It was a beautiful night and I drank up the experience.

When I’m asked what it is about the trucking life that keeps me coming back week after week, the memory of that drive from Revelstoke to Golden is the memory I am quick to share.

I’ve accumulated many more memories just like it over the years and there are many more yet to be experienced. This is the siren call of the trucking life and the weapon of choice in a recruiter’s bag of tricks. Come drive a truck and experience the open road. See the world.

Of course there are a good number of people, probably a majority, that ask me if I’m perhaps a little bit nuts to be enjoying an experience that they can only see as stressful.

It’s the challenges we face as drivers and the joy we find in those experiences that define this trucking life. As I look back at the start of my career I can’t help but be thankful for the mentorship I received.

Without a good mentorship program the recruiter’s promise of the freedom of the open road is an empty one.

The joy of this work is rooted in the confidence you have in your ability to deal with the unexpected. A good trucking mentor instills you with a confidence in your own skills, a solid foundation on which to build your experience.

I spent nine months with my mentor and I view that time as an apprenticeship. How many first-year drivers will be spending nine months with a mentor after graduating from a driving school and obtaining their licence? Probably not very many.

It makes me wonder how many new drivers are building their experience on a foundation of fear of the unknown instead of that foundation of confidence I described above.

I’ve always held the opinion that the smaller family-run trucking businesses do it best when it comes to training and mentorship. It’s a natural extension of the family dynamic, to take someone new under your wing and share your experience with them. There is as much in the experience for the trainer as for the trainee. It simply feels good to teach and to see someone benefit from that mentoring. Has this transfer of skills been lost in the now big business, big data world of trucking? I think it has to a large part.

Having spent three years of my career in a mentorship position I feel well qualified to tout its benefits. The drivers I spent time with were grateful for three to four months of intensive finishing.

Not one of the drivers I spent time with would say they would have been better off if they were left to learn the ropes in the throes of a northern Ontario winter, in the canyons of the Fraser valley, or on the slopes of the Coquihalla.

Intensive training immediately after drivers obtain their licence should be required for everyone entering this profession not just a lucky few. It only makes sense.

Finding well qualified drivers in this business is difficult. Finding well qualified drivers that are also well qualified teachers and mentors is even more difficult. Where do they come from? Who trains the trainers? Isn’t this the root of the driver shortage problem? Many people in the industry feel there are plenty of licensed drivers but they leave the industry after a very short period.

Aren’t many of those people simply disenchanted with their initial experience? Would not many of them still be here if there was a greater investment in people at the outset?

Big trucking invests heavily in equipment and technology these days. This is still very much a people based business and big trucking needs to get on that track.

My Christmas wish for our industry is to see training and mentoring become the top priority on our agenda. I wish. I wish. Merry Christmas, everyone!   

***

Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.


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