Prepare former drivers for jobs outside the truck

by Matt Graveline

Choosing an office chair instead of a driver’s seat was not easy.

My life as an owner/operator had been rewarding. I enjoyed the chance to travel and see North America. There was a freedom which few other workplaces provide. Every trip to New York City or Calgary left time to meet friends at a favourite restaurant; famous monuments were always just an off-ramp away.

But my young children were growing up without me. On the road for two to three weeks at a time, I felt that I was missing too many family events. Like every other owner/operator, I also struggled with rising equipment costs and fuel prices.

Collectively, it led me to jump at the opportunity to work in the fleet operations, overseeing trucks, drivers and owner/operators across Western Canada. The new role offered a chance to apply my skills in an industry I loved, and sent me home at night.

It was everything I wanted. But the change was also a shock to my system. Like many former drivers who exchange a cab for a desk, I struggled with some of the realities of a workplace without wheels. Freedom on the road was replaced with a structured schedule and a steady stream of phone calls, e-mails and satellite messages. The peace and quiet in my cab was exchanged for the never-ending din of a crowded office. Fellow drivers continued their journeys without me.

They are issues that lead some former truckers back to a life behind the wheel.

Experienced drivers can be great candidates for many of a fleet’s office-based tasks. Many successful dispatchers, trainers and safety teams rely on skills that were honed while following a highway’s little white lines. But finding and retaining someone who is the best fit for an office environment will involve looking beyond a clean abstract.

Leading candidates for a new career path or supervisory role tend to share a number of traits. They are the drivers who are always approached by their peers for answers and advice. And while other drivers prefer to stick with the same routes and customers, these are the employees who appear equally as comfortable when shifting to a new lane or dealing with the demands of the latest client. Above all, they have the positive attitudes, which are welcome in every workplace.

Formal orientation programs will prepare these workers for the challenges to come – and set realistic expectations about how lives will change.

Some of the most jarring changes have nothing to do with the office itself. Drivers who come to enjoy personal downtime can struggle with a new schedule which sends them home to a house full of screaming kids. And uninterrupted nights in a sleeper might be exchanged for a cell phone that rings in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s why a new office employee would benefit from the guidance of a trained mentor and a clear description of what a job will be like. Nobody will offer more insight than workers who have gone through such a change themselves.

As experienced as a driver may be, there will also be new skills to master. Formal orientation checklists can help to ensure that steps in a new role are not overlooked, whether scheduling a load or filing an Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) manifest. But learning each skill takes time.

The human dynamics in a workplace might require some attention of their own. Even the most popular driver can run into jealous peers who feel they are more deserving of an office job. Extra attention from fellow managers will help to lessen or avoid such complaints before such feelings have a chance to fester.

A new job can represent one of the biggest changes in a driver’s life, and any successful transition requires a dedicated focus. In my early days at a desk, I still found opportunities to deliver an occasional load and bobtail back to the office. A few trips back and forth to Michigan helped retain my skills at the wheel, and other changes at a personal level made differences of their own. I found that workouts released some of the stress.

We know that a successful driver orientation program involves more than tossing someone a set of keys. There should be no surprise that the plan to prepare a driver for a new job will involve more than handing over the keys to an office.

This month’s expert is Matt Graveline, senior risk services consultant with Northbridge Insurance. Matt has more than 20 years’ experience in the trucking industry as both a long-haul driver and an owner/operator. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • Hi, Matt
    While I think its a good idea to train drivers for inside jobs, a look into the training school classrooms will show that there are many potential drivers that are approaching middle age and have already spent 20 or more years in a former career, they have been “downsized” or now that their kids are grown, they want to try something they always thought about but couldn’t because of family obligations.
    The older drivers have life skills that can be integrated into the trucking industry, plus they don’t have the worries that young drivers who have young kids at home do.
    Most of these mature rookies stay for many years with the same company, and because they have learned “people skills” do an excellent job of resolving day to day problems that are part of the OTR long haul life styles.
    I know many mature drivers who survived the “renew every year” stupidity in Ontario just because they loved what they are doing.

    Older drivers work smarter.

    Bev Plummer

  • I too drove a truck for many years and changed companies due to safety issues more than anything. I find that most drivers who have drive, knowledge and people skills will eventually move to an office job or buy more trucks to grow their business.

    I started out as a truck driver when I was 21 years of age. After more than 20 years behind the wheel I felt the winds changing and went into Truck Driver training. I exceled at this task and soon became team leader. After a year I was managing their second school.

    After the truck driver training school I proceeded to a Driver Trainer/Safety and Compliance position with a company that had about 500 drivers at the time. At that time I knew nothing except training drivers in cab and a little about the Hour of Service. Then I started reading. Reading regulations came easy to me. Later in my career, listening to MTO scale personnel, MTO Auditors, CVOR Lawyers, Court, Seminars and the Deputy Registrar helped me add to the understanding of the regulations.

    You are correct about moving out of the drivers seat and into the office. It was a big change for me however, should I have stayed with this first company for the last 10 years I would not have sat with two dozen MTO Auditors, nor seen the presentation for the new Hours of Service delivered by the Manager of the MTO Auditors, numerous times I may add. I would not have been able to sit in front of two Deputy Registrar