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What drivers really want;Driver panel says respect is crucial

TORONTO, Ont. - All too often, trucking company managers assume they know what's on the minds of their drivers. But when you look at research, such as our own annual Driver Satisfaction Survey, it bec...


TORONTO, Ont. –All too often, trucking company managers assume they know what’s on the minds of their drivers. But when you look at research, such as our own annual Driver Satisfaction Survey, it becomes clear there’s a disconnect between what drivers want, and what managers think they want.

At this year’s Over the Road Canadian Recruiting and Retention Conference, organizers hosted a panel of drivers and owner/ operators and put them in front of the mics so employers could get a sense of what’s most important to them.

When asked what they would change about the industry, Sandy Milne, an owner/operator with Highland Transport summed it up in one word: Image.

“I’d like to see the public image of the industry come up considerably,” he said.

Reg Emerson, a driver with Erb Transport agreed that truckers don’t receive the respect they deserve.

Doug Ladds, a driver with MacKinnon Transport and OTA Road Knight, said there’s not a lot he’d change, but he’d like to see the profession become more rewarding financially.

Rob Harding, an O/O with Trimac Transportation, expanded on that point and said that more communication is required between carriers and their drivers and owner/operators to ensure their success.

“In tough times such as now, I’d like to see better communication between drivers and management, to hang onto each other to get through tough times,” he said. That includes sharing financial information to ensure both the company and its owner/operators remain profitable, added Harding.

“We want to do a good job for our companies so they can make a profit and I want the company to do well so I can make a profit as well,” he said.

Fellow owner/op Milne agreed, adding “I’d like to see compromise between carriers and their owner/operators. We’re both in the business together, to achieve a common goal and get the job done and make the customer happy.”

When asked why they have chosen to remain with their current carrier, most of the drivers said it was because of a respectful relationship.

“Personal touch is number one,” said Emerson. In his case, he said company founder Vernon Erb has remained approachable, and that philosophy has filtered down through the ranks.

“You’re in the yard, and (Vern) is rushing out for a meeting somewhere, but he’ll stop and open the door and he’s halfway towards you, he addresses you by name and asks ‘How’s your family?'” Emerson explained, saying no price can be attached to those two minutes. “That’s what his legacy is.”

Emerson also said it’s important to work for a carrier that’s organized. During his career at Erb, Emerson said he’s only made an empty backhaul twice: once due to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the other time in order to get home in time for Christmas. “It doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to get our load and know where we’re going,” he said.

Ladds said he has stuck with his current employer because it has supported his career decisions, which have seen him put in time as a recruiter before climbing back behind the wheel.

“I have enjoyed the opportunities given to me by my employer,” he said of MacKinnon. “I’ve always gotten support and backing all the way through.”

Milne said the staff at Highland has kept him from seeking greener pastures.

“I love the work I do and I love the people I work with – that’s it in a nutshell,” he said.

For Harding, the challenge of hauling tankers with hazardous materials is what keeps him enjoying his job.

“I enjoy the challenge of it,” he said. “I enjoy the customer service, meeting the customers and being there.”

When asked about the quality of new drivers entering the industry, the panelists acknowledged there was room for improvement.

“I don’t think there’s a problem with the quality, it’s the training,” Milne said of new drivers. “There’s not enough of it. I’d like to see the Ministry do something with the quality of people graduating out of some of these driving schools that are more like puppy mills.”

Ladds credited his company for attracting only the best new drivers, as a result of forging relationships with reputable training schools.

“We’re taking the cream of the crop,” he said. “It makes my job (as a driver-trainer) easier and our fleet look much more presentable.”

Harding noted today’s driver has to juggle many more tasks than simply piloting the truck down the road, and now more than ever they must be a consummate professional.

“When we started driving 20-30 years ago, driving the truck was the hardest part of the job,” he explained. “Nowadays, being a professional is the hardest part. Remaining calm when we’re cut off. Not responding to the one-finger waves or irate customers when we get there a few minutes late. I’m sure we can recruit (new drivers) and train them on how to be safe. But to train them how to be professional and how to have that professional attitude is the most important thing today.”

Finally, when asked if management and recruiters have a good enough understanding of what a driver faces on the road each day, the question was met with a resounding ‘no’ – at least from the owner/operators.

“We have so many things in the cab that can change our day in an instant,” explained Harding. “When you have something change your day, you don’t rush to catch up, you’ve lost the last stop at the end of the day because you’ve been held up an hour or two. It’s hard to communicate that at the office, because they’re dispatching these trucks three days from now.”

He urged fleets to send operations staff on trips with truckers to see what they must contend with first-hand.

“You have to be able to communicate with your drivers and owner/operators,” agreed Milne. “They’re your front line ambassadors. Pick a few drivers out of your fleet that you can rely on and trust, and bring them in once a month and talk to them. That’s all you gotta do.”

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‘We have so many things in the cab that can change our day in an instant.’

Rob Harding, O/O


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