The importance of mentors

TORONTO, Ont. — Joanne Mackenzie still remembers her first long-haul trip as a professional driver. Sent to New Jersey with a newly-minted licence and practically no on-the-job experience, and told to follow another driver who’d been on the job just a week longer than Mackenzie herself had been, it culminated with time spent in the back of separate cop cars upon their arrival back into Ontario, their logbooks a mess.

“That trip took us almost two days to do,” Mackenzie recalled, when speaking about mentoring programs at the Women with Drive Leadership Summit this week. “We were totally lost. They had to come save us and guide us into the port. We got to the border and we were never so glad to see Canada once again.”

That was until the OPP examined their logbooks and sat both drivers in the back of separate cop cars, before finally releasing them with a warning.

“We both said, we’re not doing this anymore,” Mackenzie recalled.

However, Mackenzie persevered and went to work with a carrier that would invest the training needed to prepare her for a career as a professional driver. It has been a rewarding career since and she now spends part of her time mentoring new drivers for Highland Transport.

Mackenzie gave a stirring first-hand account of what it was like to learn the ropes in a male-dominated industry many years ago. She recalled her driver-trainer rapping her knuckles every time she grinded a gear. Still, she remembers him with fondness, if not his methods.

“He taught me the basics of what I needed to know to learn to survive in this industry,” she said. “Not a day goes by where I don’t remember something he taught me.”

Mackenzie painted a realistic picture of what it’s like to share a cab with a complete stranger 24 hours a day for weeks on end.

“You need to match yourself with proper mentors and make sure you’re able to function together in that small surroundings,” she said. “Respect each other, show patience and be kind to each other.”

Cristina Falcone of UPS was also on the panel to share details of that company’s extensive, formal mentoring program, which was initially established to help female employees reach their full potential. She said an effective mentoring program requires a lot of pre-work, to ensure prospective mentees will benefit from the experience and to ensure they’re paired with a suitable mentor.

Potential mentees are surveyed to determine the areas in which they could benefit from some further skills development and then matched up with mentors who excel in those areas.

“We pair them with a mentor who has strengths in that area where we find gaps,” Falcone explained. “It’s leveraging the strengths of senior people in our organization to fill in those gaps in those we want to see move up within the company.”

The meetings between mentor and mentee are structured, with specific assignments or challenges attached to them.

“When they meet, it has to have purpose,” Falcone said. The program culminates in a graduation for the mentee.

Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, said there are clear benefits to mentoring programs. She cited research that indicated mentors and mentees get promoted faster and enjoy more salary increases than others.

To become a mentor, Voie said it’s first important to “determine if you’re ready to set aside the time. It takes time. Make sure you’re prepared.”

Each of the panelists agreed the success of any mentoring program hinges on the compatibility of the mentor and mentee.

“Make sure that pairing is right,” said Falcone. “Do that work up front to find the right matches. That’s the magic ingredient to make things work.”

Mackenzie added it’s just as important to train the mentor as it is to train the mentee.

“They need to know the role they’re playing and the importance of that role, and I think we need to train our mentors just as much as we train our trainees to handle those situations,” she said.


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James Menzies is editorial director of Today's Trucking and He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 24 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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