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Training The Dispatcher

HALIFAX, N. S. - Last year's first-ever dispatcher training course in Nova Scotia was a huge success, according to Garnet Rafuse, a career trucker with David Brown Transport in Cambridge, in the Annap...

HALIFAX, N. S. –Last year’s first-ever dispatcher training course in Nova Scotia was a huge success, according to Garnet Rafuse, a career trucker with David Brown Transport in Cambridge, in the Annapolis Valley and a dispatcher since 2004.

“Every dispatcher goes into the job blind. You have no idea. But this essential skills course gives you the skills to communicate with people,” Rafuse said.

The course was developed by the Nova Scotia Trucking Human Resources Sector Council (THRSC), in partnership with the Department of Labour and Workforce Development. There was also plenty of input into the curriculum from Jack Thompson, who is responsible for safety and compliance with David Brown Transport (Choice Reefer Services, in Belleville, Ont., bought the carrier in 2005), and who spearheaded the course’s creation.

“There has never been any training for dispatching. We have been taking drivers off the road and setting them down (in the dispatch chair) but without good communication skills. Communicating with drivers is probably the most important thing a dispatcher can do. Communication and interaction is one of the things I want to teach dispatchers. Dispatchers can make or break a company,” Thompson explains. “We are looking for a better environment, learning how to handle drivers without giving into them every time, teach the dispatcher how to convince the driver that what he is doing is best for the company and everyone involved; ie., convincing that guy that he is the only one who can pick up that load.”

With 22 years as a driver before becoming a dispatcher, Rafuse knew the trucking side of the job cold. He even led the carrier’s dispatchers out of the pen-and-paper age, setting up computers and spreadsheets. When Thompson asked him if he would like to be the company’s first dispatcher to take the newly-created course, Rafuse jumped at the chance. He was not disappointed.

Rafuse and nine other dispatchers from other carriers met every Tuesday in Halifax from late January to the end of March 2008 for the 40-hour course. It was an eye-opener.

“We learned skills about dealing with customers; ie., if their order was late, I learned how to negotiate and work my way along to solving problems,” Rafuse relates. “Before, I probably wouldn’t have even known there was a problem…the truck is gone and there is nothing I can do about it. Now, if I discover there is a problem, I call the customer right away and work to solve it. Normally we don’t have any problems with customers when we do that.”

Rafuse also got a taste of time management and organizational skills training.

“You seem to be organized to yourself, but due to the course my organizing skills have improved 100%. I may get 100-200 phone calls a day. The course has taught me time management. I don’t feel stressed anymore.”

The participants shared stories of problems on the job and discussed different approaches to solving them.

“We looked at different ways to solve them and whether a certain problem was worth fixing, such as dealing with a driver that didn’t want to do things. Before, I’d say, ‘Go home and I’ll call you when I need you.’ But now I dig deeper, find out what the problem is and fix it. You worry about the other people, fix their problems, then they don’t have problems,” Rafuse says.

The course also included a four-hour segment in conflict resolution and training in phone skills.

What seemed to particularly intrigue Rafuse was what he learned about different personality types – that some people have problems making up their minds, others are more organized by nature, and still others have natural leadership talents, to name a few characteristics.

“I never really understood that there were so many different types of people. I always thought everyone was the same as me,” Rafuse explains. These insights have helped Rafuse understand the value in handling different people in different ways; ie., some drivers need to be handled with kid gloves, others more forcefully. After finishing the course, Rafuse came back to the office and began sharing what he had learned. “I was promoting these dispatcher essential skills to everyone back at the office,” he says. This did not go unnoticed. Last year the Nova Scotia Department of Education awarded him the Nova Scotia Work Place Education Ambassador Award.

By now Rafuse will have nearly completed this year’s dispatcher course, which has more focus on time management.

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