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 www.nbins.com.