TORONTO, Ont. – The television ad shows two drivers sitting in their truck, obviously lost, getting directions from their cell phone. One says to the other, “Why don’t we just let the phone drive?”
If life were that simple, there would be less need for drivers. Fortunately for drivers it is not and, for a trucking company to keep dependable drivers working for them, there is no substitute for a well-trained dispatcher. Linda Gauthier agrees.
“It’s a key position,” says Gauthier, executive director of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC). “It can make the difference between the company being more successful or less successful.”
The CTHRC predicted in 2003 that 37,000 jobs needed to be filled until 2008 to keep up with the demand created by Canada’s economy. As a result of this worker’s market, the turnover rate for Canadian truck drivers is high – around 35%, according to Gauthier.
But she does acknowledge that some companies can maintain a much lower rate if they have qualified dispatchers. One driver she spoke of told her how important the dispatcher was in his decision to work where he did.
The man had begun driving as a second career. “He was saying that that dispatcher made the difference between him leaving the carrier to go to work elsewhere,” says Gauthier.
Given the choice, most drivers would prefer to stay with one company, according to Roy Craigen, president of Transcom Fleet Services.
“I think there’s a consistent high turnover and drivers are looking for a reasonable place to park their life,” he says.
Transcom runs programs to train dispatchers who, according to Craigen, if trained properly, are essential to a well-managed fleet.
“Dispatch is the heartbeat of most trucking operations,” he says, adding, “delivery of their services really sets the atmosphere of the office.”
He says that a good dispatcher may, in fact, mean the difference between high or low driver turnover. “There is so much (responsibility) they have as a front line supervisor, not to mention customer care and all that, it’s ridiculous how little either support and/or training we provide current or future dispatchers.”
Dispatcher training courses, which are not mandatory in Canada, cover regulations, Hours-of-Service, load securement, sexual harassment regulations and the privacy act, among other things. However, there are some less textbook traits that have to be learned for a dispatcher to maintain strong ties with drivers.
Tyrone Downs was named Ontario’s Dispatcher of the Year for 2005 and says there has to be a very personal connection between dispatchers and drivers. Downs says it’s as simple as getting to know his drivers.
“If you know them personally and you can ask them about their home life,” he says it helps him build relationships. “They sacrifice, but when you can give them that chance to be at home and kind of do them a favour, that kind of helps,” Downs says, adding that the good deeds don’t go unnoticed. “When I need them, they’re there for me.”
Al McInroy, manager at the Trenton terminal of Erb Transport where Downs works chalks a lot up to personality.
“When (drivers) come to the dispatch window they’re always looking to hear a joke and find out what their next load’s going to be, so if you accommodate both ends you’re a good dispatcher.”
Downs does admit technology makes his job easier but it can be a burden on older drivers.
“I’m still not as computer literate as I should be and for the older guys it’s a little bit of a challenge because now they’re getting more responsibilities put onto them,” he says.
Still, there are obvious benefits to computerized communication. “We have full communications at all times with them, which is great because if they need something we’re there,” says Downs.
With that in mind, there is a move by some makers of on-board communications devices to ease the transition for drivers into technology. According to Mike Ham, vice-president of Cancom Satellite Communications, “A lot of future functionality has to do with driver friendliness.”
He adds the company is working on ways of incorporating text-to-voice messaging into on-board software so that drivers can avoid lengthy interruptions and instead just listen to prompts and get back on the road.
With these advancements, Ham hopes technology can be used to ease the hassle for both drivers and dispatchers. With technology, he says, “you take the stress level down for everyone.”