Dispatchers keep wheels turning in trucking

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As millions of trucks travel on North American highways toward their destinations, people are huddled behind computer screens and talking on phones day and night, planning, monitoring, and solving problems as they arise.

Dispatchers must manage traffic to ensure customer service goals are met while steering relationships with drivers and customers. They must ensure that supply chains are not disrupted.

Harpreet Kaur, operations manager at Trilink Logistics in Bolton, Ont. says drivers and the company relies on dispatchers. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Excellent communication skills, empathy and a calm demeanor are just a few qualities essential for the role.

Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont. says working as a truck driver for more than 10 years has helped with his dispatching career.

“You can relate with what the driver is going through. Drivers have a different respect for you when they know you’ve been out there,” says Turnbull, recipient of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s Rick Austin Memorial Dispatcher of the Year award.

Things happen in trucking, there are layovers and delays. “The drivers and company are relying on you. You must provide timely updates to your customers,” says Harpreet Kaur, operations manager at Trilink Logistics in Bolton, Ont.

You must enjoy your job when you choose dispatching as a career, says Jason Ragoo, terminal manager at Polaris Transportation in Mississauga, Ont. “It’s very fast paced, I love the pace and I love the challenge,” says Ragoo, who emphasized attention to detail and communication as key to doing the job well.

Jason Ragoo, terminal manager at Polaris Transportation in Mississauga, Ont. says dispatchers must pay attention to details. (Photo: Leo Barros

Steve Bishop, professor of supply chain management at Centennial College says dispatchers must be factual, trustworthy, and honest with everybody. “Communication is key. You have to communicate with management about process improvements to increase efficiency. When issues come up, dispatchers must make sure the drivers are aware of them,” he says.

Bishop says supply chain management courses and programs provide students with the knowledge to be a transportation dispatcher and provide an overall knowledge of supply chains.

He says many students taking these courses have no work experience. They secure entry-level roles in companies and work their way up.

Kaur who earned her diploma in supply chain management in 2017, now manages 75 trucks. She began working after hours at Trilink, transitioned into dispatch and now is the operations manager.

“Drivers are the assets of the company, you must make sure they are happy and also keep customers happy,” Kaur says.

Sharp’s Turnbull says he empathizes with his drivers and offers an equal playing field.

Dispatch staff monitor Trilink Logistics’ fleet at their office in Bolton, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

“I try to keep it at a friend level to a certain point. Sometimes have to put your foot down and say this has to happen. I don’t have to do that here. Drivers are willing to go that extra mile,” Turnbull says.

“You have to be personable, understanding, and have a heart for people. Each driver has a different situation, you have to understand that. You can dispatch them in a way that works out best for everybody,” he says.

Polaris’ Ragoo joined the company as a forklift operator 10 years ago and moved up through the ranks. He has no formal education in logistics or transportation. He has worked as a dispatcher, dispatch manager and was recently promoted to terminal manager. “It is possible to learn on job, it is a lot of hard work,” he says.

Devon Turnbull, dispatch manager at Sharp Transportation in Cambridge, Ont. is old school and likes to have all the paperwork on a wall with folders, where orders and driver names are inserted. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Turnbull says he tries not to take his work home, “but I am pretty much 24/7.” He carries an after-hours office phone with him. “I don’t mind helping the guys out. The drivers are pretty conscious about it, and don’t call unless they really need to,” he says.

Trilink’s Kaur says she sometimes attends to work calls and emails after hours, and sometimes she starts work early.

“I don’t mind doing it because I love doing it. We have 75 trucks, and they are always on the road. It’s trucking, things happen,” she says.

Stress is part and parcel of the job.

“I call it the stress bowl,” Turnbull says. “Organizing 45 drivers is like trying to organize a pail of minnows. Everybody wants to go the opposite way, but you got to keep calm and cool. The calmer you are, the calmer they are.

“There are certain things that can’t be resolved, and you can’t take that to heart. Sometimes you just can’t win. All you can do is do your best and keep trying.”

For Turnbull, playing drums is a good way to get rid of stress. The band he is part of has shut down due to the pandemic, but he’s looking forward to performing in public as things open.

Steve Bishop, professor of supply chain management at Centennial College. (Photo: Supplied)

Kaur says she doesn’t think she destresses after leaving work. “I am always involved. I know you need to separate your work and family life. I try to make sure before leaving things have calmed down. Some things you can’t control.”

Centennial College’s Bishop says a work-life balance is required to avoid stress but is difficult to achieve. “Don’t take anything personal, leave it at a professional level. Make sure management provides you with the resources you need to do your job effectively,” he says.

Why would a person choose this career? “Why not?” asks Ragoo. “It makes you feel good to do a good job. It’s not I worked, and I went home, it is I worked, I made a difference.”

By Leo Barros

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Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at leo@newcom.ca