MONTREAL, Que. - With an appetite for roughly 150 new international truckers a year, Quebec's Robert Transport has a get 'em approach to finding new talent that includes a mobile recruitment unit, finder's fees and personnel dedicated to making th...
MONTREAL, Que. – With an appetite for roughly 150 new international truckers a year, Quebec’s Robert Transport has a get ’em approach to finding new talent that includes a mobile recruitment unit, finder’s fees and personnel dedicated to making the day-to-day challenges of road-based careers easier to bear.
Ever since the passing of Bill 430 into law in 1998, truckers’ jobs have become more complicated and specialized, and well-qualified truckers for U.S.-bound trips have become more difficult to find, according to Gatin Laperle, Robert’s recruiting coordinator. “When I joined Robert in 1997 there was a pile of 250 CVs (curriculum vitae, or rsums) on my desk. Now, if a CV lands on my desk today, if I don’t call him right away, the next day he will be working for someone else.”
Take its mobile recruitment unit, a 48-foot tractor-trailer manned by Marcel Charbonneau, who works in Robert’s human resources department, at truck stops.
The other day it was stationed as close to the road as allowable at a truck stop on Montreal’s manic Metropolitan, bright yellow tractor and trailer sizzling under a March sun and a 30-foot long proclamation of “NOUS EMBAUCHONS” (WE ARE HIRING) stencilled on the side over a sky blue background.
This unit regularly tours about five truck stops in Quebec and visits just about all the others on the 401 between Montreal and London.
“We have had about 500 visitors to the in the last 18 or so months. We have recruited about 25 percent of the drivers who have visited us,” Charbonneau says. “There are truckers who are currently not employed, but who like to visit truck stops. We get some of them. There are drivers who are currently employed with other companies who we get.”
Drivers switch to Robert for various reasons – unsatisfactory working conditions or salaries; some work for agencies and want to jump. Others are brokers who don’t get enough work and want more lucrative employment.
Charbonneau likes this forum for meeting, informing and screening visitors. A former owner/operator and driving school owner, he likes to watch how drivers handle their rigs and how they handle themselves on the job. Also, he finds truck stop chats are better than office interviews for getting to know drivers. His job also includes handing out information on how drivers can become more eligible to work for Robert, say, with a couple of years more experience.
Although Charbonneau certainly welcomes qualified drivers, he emphasizes: “We are not headhunters. We give out information. We are looking for the cream of the drivers. The driver of today needs brains, not just strong arms. It is a specialized job.”
He adds: “It is not so much a shortage of drivers, but a shortage of drivers who want to work.”
Laperle says holders of Class I licences are plentiful, but that many of them have never driven. The government thinks, incorrectly, that there are drivers galore, but Robert has stringent requirements that disqualify applicants left and right.
For example, drivers can’t have criminal records, since the U.S. won’t let them in.
Nor can they have drunk driving convictions, dope problems, or a pattern of accidents (death to an applicant). Robert doesn’t want dummies or guys who flit from fleet to fleet, but they do want drivers with a working grasp of English.
One year of driving experience is usually required, although Robert will take good applicants from the government driving schools and train them intensively for U.S. travel.
“We give a chance to school graduates,” says Laperle, adding, “We want guys who will ‘become Robert.’ The requirements are severe.”
An international driver can easily snag $50,000 a year. Lots of guys between 40 and 50 years of age are choosing trucking as a second career, a population that Robert is very comfortable with. The company’s other favourite age group is the 25 to 30-year old crowd. Only the rare fellow younger than that gets hired.
Robert keeps its hard-won drivers partially thanks to human resource personnel the drivers can call on anytime when they have problems – even when they’re on the road.
“Often the companies do not have time to listen to their drivers,” says Laperle, who notes that this three-year old resource service has cut turnover by 50 to 60 per cent.
In the Robert cafeteria, a poster offers $250 for any employee who gets a driver to sign up, with another $250 in his or her pocket if the driver stays at least six months.
Robert has paid out $6,000 since the program started last July. So while the government and agencies churn out studies on driver shortages, Robert lets money talk, and its drivers hammer down.