Clearing a path to success

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Back in 1995 I went through a career crisis. I had been driving for 18 years and the truck I owned was three years old, paid for, and primed for a lucrative trade-in. Trouble was, I was beginning to feel that the risk of owning a truck was outstripping the return. I felt trapped. When I was offered a company-driver job at one of the best outfits in the land, I leapt at it.

Less than three years later, though, I was bored stiff. Happily for me, a writing career came along.

I wonder if I would have left trucking had I believed it held other opportunities for me. Because also back in 1995 I was daydreaming about forming some sort of organization for professional drivers so people like me would have somewhere to turn. In other fields-engineering or medicine, for example-these kinds of groups exist to provide career guidance and professional development for their members. Think of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, or the Engineering Institute of Canada.

These groups also establish professional standards and act as the voice of the professions. They monitor continuing education and member performance.

If trucking could boast such an organization, I’m convinced the driver shortage would ease, drivers currently working would be more highly motivated, and drivers in mid career like I was in 1995 would have somewhere to turn to ask questions about the future.

Roy Craigen, the general manager of Edmonton-based Transcom, a trucking-specific training and management-consultant firm, has launched a program called Career Path that recommends giving good employees an opportunity for a better future within the trucking industry. Craigen, a former manager with the special commodities division of Economy Carriers in Edmonton, is a champion of driver education and believes truckers should be rewarded for advancing themselves. His ideas have loads of merit, especially one about drivers being encouraged to use the cab as a classroom during downtime. “Let’s face it,” he says. “With distance-learning, self-study courses, and online university programs, the cab of the truck could be a great place to advance your career.”

Also worth a look is something like Winnipeg-based Kleysen Transport’s “Knights of the Road” initiative. The idea was Kleysen president and CEO Tom Kleysen’s, but the drivers themselves developed the actual program.
“Knights of the Road,” Kleysen said at the time, “was founded on the belief that professional drivers have not been afforded the recognition, dignity, and respect that other professionals have commanded.” At its heart, Knights was an internal education program based on a four-day course that included such work-related skills as conflict resolution, customer service, paperwork management, and personal health. Membership was voluntary, but after one year of existence, about a third of the company’s 600 drivers and owner-operators had signed on. Regrettably, the program has since succumbed due to lack of interest.

In the past, we could reasonably expect a driver to put in 20 to 30 years of service. Not so today. Young people are looking for growth potential, but unfortunately trucking is perceived as offering little beyond the steering wheel.

Years ago truck drivers were seen as helpful people you actually wanted to associate with. To me, that’s still true today. But I’m not a young guy starting out, with an open road’s worth of possibilities. Yes, there will always be drivers who move on after a week of work, recognizing that the job isn’t for them. I’m talking about the bright, ambitious people you want to keep. As soon as they see the end of the career path from the driver’s seat, they’ll be looking not to another company but to another industry for milestones and rewards.

Whether it’s supporting a professional association for drivers-and there are several out there-or a new program you develop on your own, do something to slow the exodus from this industry. Make it your New Year’s resolution for 2004. Vow to keep it.

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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