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Private Links: Let’s Put the Personal Back in the Personnel Department

According to a recent report some very large and well-known companies rely on software programs for much of their human resources activities. These programs track information such as wages, benefits, overtime and vacation entitlement. The value an...

According to a recent report some very large and well-known companies rely on software programs for much of their human resources activities. These programs track information such as wages, benefits, overtime and vacation entitlement. The value and even the necessity of computerizing that type of information can be readily understood.

But some of these programs venture into other areas of the Human Resources function – areas that have traditionally relied on the experience, training and intuition of people. With these programs we can now delegate to a computer tasks such as the tracking of rsums, profiling (now there’s an unpopular word these days) of job applicants and the researching of their work histories. These programs can even arrange preliminary interviews and weed out some applicants for you, thus automating your Human Resources department. So where’s the downside you might ask? What could be wrong with saving a little time in the hiring process by letting computers pre-screen applicants for available positions? After all, time is the one commodity we’re all short of and a little computerized relief would surely be welcome.

Perhaps there is no downside, but maybe, just maybe, the move toward automating the hiring process is one more step in the ever-increasing drive to de-personalize business. The symbiotic relationship between the computer and our everyday business lives is astonishing.

Moreover, we have moved past the use of computers or automation as mere convenience. We are rapidly becoming a society that actively seeks ways and means to avoid actually speaking with other people – be they fellow employees, customers, suppliers or those that report to us (insert your thoughts about the overuse of e-mail and voice messaging here). We can blame this malaise on the lack of available time in our lives, but the process of automation is ensnaring us.

Many companies take the approach of publicly trumpeting the value of their people as a marketing tool. Remember the radio ad that invoked the claim “our strength is people.” So how does one reconcile this declared “People First” philosophy with the use of software to screen rsums and to identify candidates that will be interviewed? Are the two approaches necessarily at odds with one another? I think that to a large degree they are. Using a computer to pre-select applicants that will be interviewed is a step towards completely de-personalizing the entire employer-employee relationship.

I recall one impassioned employer telling me not long ago how much he disliked the term “human resources,” believing that it equated people with the parts inventory in a manufacturing firm. He longed for the universal abandonment of the term Human Resources Department and a return to the use of the descriptive Personnel Department, arguing that such a simple change in terminology would restore the status of the individual in the eyes of the corporation. I can’t guarantee that a simple change in the department’s name would put us back on track, but it sure can’t hurt.

Selecting the right candidate for a position goes well beyond the use of a checklist to determine whether he or she has the fundamental skills, experience and educational requirements for the job. If it were that easy, we could safely rely on a computer to select our next new hire.

That’s why companies that do not have the requisite in-house resources often rely on the services of staffing consultants who conduct initial interviews. It is during this phase of the hiring process that professionals get a “feel” for the applicant. And that personal interaction can be a critical step in identifying the ultimate choice.

When it comes to drivers, successful fleet operators make a point of interacting on a personal level with them, listening to their suggestions and working with them to correct problem areas. Fleets that practice this type of communication consistently report excellent safety records, negligible turnover and high levels of customer service. One very important aspect of their employee relations is how they deal with people as people, not as commodities.

When I meet people who are committed to dealing with drivers as professionals it reinforces my view that a little less computer and a little more “personnel” is the answer.

Roy Craigen, chairman of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council and president of TRANSCOM, a company providing professional training and support for the trucking industry, is such a person. A real enthusiast who is committed to developing a business relationship with drivers that begins at the hiring process and extends throughout their association with the company.

The CTHRC’s “People Matter” approach also recognizes the importance of how we treat people. And Ralph Boyd, president of the APTA said recently that our industry “does not function without people.”

So get involved with your drivers from the outset. Employee relationships can’t be left to computers.

– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to

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