Monday, 15 August 2016

Technology Can't Give a Pat on the Back

This post appeared in the August 2016 edition of Truck News

Technology is a wonderful thing. We can’t get by without it in today’s world. But those of us that find ourselves “managed” by that technology would like to give it a try.
The problem with truck driving and using technology to measure performance of drivers is the almost complete lack of human contact in the drivers’ workplace. Software is used to report the failure of a driver to meet a specific standard. So the only feedback a driver receives is negative. It is rare that a driver will be caught doing something right by the measures employed in today’s trucking industry. Many of us that earn our living as professional drivers follow the “no news is good news” formula when it comes to judging our own performance. In most professions you can count on a manager in the workplace to recognize an above average performance by an employee. But in the trucking industry there is not anyone to re-enforce all the positive things that a driver does in the course of his or her day. A driver is doing a good job when they are not caught doing anything wrong. Layers of measurement tools are being added all the time to measure performance in the cab but performance appraisal by another human being is becoming increasingly rare.
I recently ran into a situation that provided me with the opportunity to do something about this inequity. I heard about one of my fellow drivers doing something right so I reported it to our Safety Manager. Think about that for a minute. As drivers we have the ability to let our managers and owners know when our fellow employees (drivers) are doing something really well. We are certain to let them know when something is not right so why do we not report above average performance.
We had a new hire at one of our terminals recently, a brand new city driver with little driving experience. I had heard some positive feedback from the experienced driver that was mentoring the new driver and then I was told by one of our long-time customers about the great job this new driver was doing when I made a delivery there a few weeks later. So with all the talk about retaining drivers and creating an inviting work environment I realised that I had an opportunity to walk the walk so to speak. I picked up the phone and made a positive report to the drivers local supervisor and on my return to my home terminal, that is also the head office, I had a short sit down with our Safety Manager and let him know what a great job this driver was doing and why.
This is actually a lot bigger deal than many drivers realise, myself included. I had forgotten how difficult it has become for managers to encourage, coach, and strengthen a driver’s performance by catching them doing something right when most of the tools they have available are designed to activate reports based on sub-standard performance. So as drivers the best measure our manager/owner has of our performance is when they don’t hear anything at all. If we are not seen and not heard from then everything is just fine. Only the squeaky wheel that is about to fall off receives the attention it deserves.
It should be no surprise that under these conditions morale is difficult to maintain and communication, that is, building strong workplace relationships, is a long term endeavor that does not receive the attention it deserves.
This is where we can make a difference as seasoned drivers. Many of us that have been in this business for a decade or more have found a comfortable place to work. If we have been with one employer for 5 years or more we have built a relationship of trust, hopefully. If we have the respect of our employer then we can leverage that relationship to help those drivers that are new to the industry and still trying to find their feet. This is something that we don’t do enough of.

Everything comes down to training and performance management in our business. If you are an experienced driver you have the unique ability to influence the culture of the company you work for. You can make it more people oriented by becoming more people oriented yourself. Use your experience to help the people around you, especially new drivers breaking in to our industry. It does not take much to mentor others. All you have to do is let them know when they are doing a good job and share your experience, especially your failures. Adding a human touch to our industry is something we can all do. These are simple old school values and practices. Let’s not forget to put them to frequent use. This is a positive difference we can all make.

How Trucking Eats It's Young

This post was published in the July 2016 edition of Truck News

Work the first two weeks without pay and then ten cents per mile while training. That was an offer made to a newly licensed driver by a potential employer. This information came to me through a trusted associate.
I was told by a potential employer that I had to pay a $100 fee when I did my road test. They would refund it to me if they hired me. That was from a thread in a trucking Facebook group posted by a Canadian veteran transitioning to the trucking industry.
With over 30 years’ experience, a clean driving record, and loyalty to my employer, why am I being paid the same rate per mile as new hires, some with little experience and a dirty driving abstract? Again, from a driver commenting in a Facebook trucking group.
I could go on with comments like this gleaned from social media and fellow drivers I have come to know over the years. The hand wringing about the driver shortage continues but to those of us that work the front lines it is obvious where the problem lies. It is all about how drivers are treated. It’s about respect, or rather, the lack of it. For those of us that work for legitimate professional carriers that treat drivers as partners in their business, not pawns, we shake our heads in dismay.
I do my best each month when I sit down to write this column to put a positive light on the career I have chosen not because I feel it is my duty but because I love what I do. My career in trucking has been my salvation both personally and financially. It’s a great way to earn a living. But if I had not cast my lot with J&R Hall Transportation 13 years ago where would I be today? I am truly grateful to be where I am.
It is difficult to address the negative hiring practices and poor treatment drivers receive at the hands of employers.  Where does a new recruit to the industry turn when faced with a situation they recognise as questionable but have no knowledge or industry experience to guide them? The fox has been minding the henhouse for a long time but drivers are becoming much savvier in their ability to weed out the shady operators. Social media groups are not only sharing experiences and rating carriers through their own commentary but are also helping newly licensed drivers to manoeuver their way around government websites and use CVOR and CSA scores to weed out the carriers with poor safety ratings. If a carrier isn’t taking the time to do things right on the operations and maintenance side of their business it is a strong indicator they probably don’t take the time to maintain and nurture their human resources.
Training and certification. It is long past time to recognise this truck driving profession as a skilled trade. I know I sound like a broken record. Every month I come back to this same theme. But it is the one issue that cuts across all lines of the trucking industry. If we had a system in place with the same approach to training and certification as other trades do we would be able to tackle this issue of a driver shortage in earnest. We have to face the fact that there is no shortage of people wanting to earn a decent living but there is a shortage of people that will accept being treated like crap.
Let’s go back and look at the example of the newly licensed driver looking for work. This individual has been unemployed for a period of time, has scrimped, saved, and tried to source funding for the six to eight thousand dollars they need to complete a legitimate training course. They have been told there is an abundance of good paying jobs with on the job training by recruiters. But upon graduation the sharks are circling ready to pick off their victims one by one. Many of these new graduates are hungry for work, any work, because the bill collectors are at the door, the rent needs to be paid, and their family needs to be cared for. I have been there myself. Desperation can easily cloud sound reasoning.

So unfortunately many new recruits accept these sub-standard offers of employment and many of them don’t last in the industry. They end up driving crappy equipment at a poor rate of pay and their expectations of a new and exciting career are shattered. It is easy to sit back and say that people don’t need to accept to work under those conditions. But that does not fix what is broken. We need to train, certify, and recognise our drivers as professionals and make sure the wages and benefits reflect those skills and training. It’s the right thing to do. Period.

Is Trucking Really a Lifestyle?

This post was published in the June 2016 edition of Truck News


Although I have used the description myself, I’m tiring of truck driving being promoted as a “lifestyle”. Trucking is a field of specialized training (profession) not a set of attitudes (lifestyle) in my opinion. Or is it both? For every truck driver you talk to and ask the question - Is truck driving a lifestyle, a profession, or both? - You will receive a different interpretation unique to the individuals’ circumstances and personal values.
A huge problem that we face as professional drivers is that we don’t have a broad set of standards under one umbrella around which we can coalesce. Unlike the carriers we work for we don’t have an organization that represents our profession. We are fragmented and spend far too much energy focusing on our differences surrounding lifestyle issues rather than focusing on the skills we ALL share and the social issues we ALL face.
There are some great examples of drivers coming together on social media to address industry wide issues. One of those issues is driver training and mentorship.
Shelley Uvenile-Hesch is long haul driver for Sharp Transportation. Through her persistence and tenacity she has brought to life a non-profit named the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada. It started a few years ago with a will to expand the employment of women across the Canadian trucking industry. Through Shelley’s membership in Facebook groups and her dogged determination she built a following that led to the incorporation of WTFC in early March of this year. A group of six full time drivers form the WTFC board. With a focus on co-operation, positive attitudes, and a desire to build relationships across all lines – drivers, carriers, government, training organizations, vocational schools, other social media groups, etc. – professional drivers are coming together to share their knowledge with new recruits and renew the camaraderie that so many seasoned drivers have been pining for over the past few decades. This is a great example of how drivers can come together to share our common skills and experiences. This organization is not designed to represent drivers but to empower them. WTFC challenges the authoritarian model that the trucking industry has developed over the years. In essence it presents a new paradigm of problem solving from the bottom up rather than the top down.
WTFC is a great example of how all drivers can come together under the skills umbrella to better their profession, but what about working conditions or as we have come to know it the lifestyle of trucking? Where have we been and where are we going? Alfy Meyer digs in to this topic on his website theintrepidtrucker.com with a post titled “Caught Between a Paradox and a Paradigm, Why the Trucking Industry is Doomed to Collapse in 10 Years”. With almost four decades driving experience Alfy provides us with a wonderful snapshot of where we have come from. You should take a look.
It’s important to realise that the issues we face surrounding driver pay, overtime, waiting time, compliance with regulations, and health issues are not unique to the trucking industry. Movements such as Occupy highlight the difficulties faced by the majority of citizens today. There is constant pressure around the issue of profit for large corporations versus equity for people. It really is the issue of our times. Coming together around this issue is far more difficult because of our individual political, religious, and cultural differences.
So I come back to my opening statement about the so called trucking lifestyle. It’s as if we wear the hardships we face as drivers like a badge of honour. We are pushed to accept the long hours and often poor working conditions as the status quo. How often have your complaints about an ongoing issue like driver waiting time, lack of safe parking, or 60+ hour work weeks without overtime compensation, been addressed with a comment such as, “Well, that’s just trucking”. Many drivers today will simply say if you don’t like it find another line of work. Sub-standard working conditions have become the norm for many drivers in this industry because that is all they have ever known. As a result this poor treatment has become institutionalized. The trucking lifestyle.
So we are seeing drivers becoming energized around skills issues and showing that we are the natural leaders in the training process because of the incredible depth of our experience. That sharing of common knowledge and skills leads to a strengthening of the camaraderie amongst drivers that combats the differences in our cultural, ethnic, and political differences.

We need organizations like WTFC that empower us to come together and push the driver agenda forward. But we also need the veterans like Alfy Meyer to remind us of where we came from and what we need to aspire to.

Being Generous With Your Time Can Pay Off

This post was published in the May 2016 edition of Truck News

“I’m glad it’s you making the delivery today, most drivers don’t offer much assistance” Clare said with a smile
That quote comes from a receiver I’ve come to know very well over the past several years. He owns a small retail furniture business in southern Manitoba. I always call ahead when I deliver to him so he can arrange for help to unload his shipment. On this day he was short on staff leaving the two of us to get the job done. It wasn’t much of an inconvenience on this day because it was a light shipment. Besides, over the years our relationship developed based on generosity & gratitude. I gave generously of my time & labour, he was grateful. In the days prior to the opening of our Winnipeg terminal his shipment was usually the last of the day on my wagon, he would accept delivery late into the evening being very generous with his time. In these instances it was my turn to be grateful. He respected my time and effort.
Over the 17 years I have been driving customer service is rarely, if ever, talked about within the driving ranks. Yet how we relate to shippers & receivers has a direct impact on our time and our trip plan. I don’t  ever recall sitting in a safety meeting and having a discussion about our customers and how the drivers one on one relationship with them impacts the drivers daily life and in turn, the fortunes of the company. I’ve always found this odd. I’m payed by the mile and by the drop. Why aren’t we talking about how to make good use of my time? That time is totally dependent on the relationship I have with shippers & receivers. Shouldn’t we be talking about those relationships and how to leverage them?
I think this topic is the Achilles heel of the trucking industry. Why? Because developing people skills and the productive professional relationships that go along with them is incredibly difficult in an environment where the drivers’ performance cannot be observed and coached. We have to face the fact that in the past people skills were developed organically across the trucking industry by smaller often family run trucking companies. Successful customer service skills were not taught but were demonstrated to new drivers by experienced drivers and the founders of the company. Customer service wasn’t called customer service in this environment but was probably known as showing respect, hard work, commitment, generosity, etc. These positive work ethics are known to most drivers in the industry as old school values. These are the foundational values that build strong interpersonal relationships with shippers & receivers – customers – and lead to higher productivity for the individual driver.
It seems that the expectation of many drivers today is that their responsibility ends when they bump the dock. This attitude is re-enforced by many large companies that recruit drivers with the tag line, ‘no touch freight’. All you have to do is drive, your responsibility ends there. But this re-enforces the short term view of return on investment. Personal relationships and the benefits that come along with them are not short term projects. The payoff is in the long term.
Where I work we deal with floor loads of commercial furniture shipped to dealers across Canada. Often I will have to deliver a load of 300-400 pieces of furniture to a single stop. On occasion there is only one individual receiver plus myself to unload the freight. Usually there is more manpower than that but sometimes not. Do I sit in the cab all day and wait or do I invest some unpaid time and assist? Many drivers will not expend the effort because they are not being financially compensated for the work. I won’t disagree with that position. But what I will say is that because I deal with these individual receivers on an ongoing basis a situation such as this presents a golden opportunity to be generous with my time and effort and earn their gratitude in return. That gratitude and respect we have the opportunity to earn in these situations pays off in spades down the road. When the opportunity arises for that shipper or receiver to repay the gratitude you earned with a generous act of their own, they will, making your life easier by valuing your time as something important. That friends, is money in the bank.

But the real value I find in taking the time to invest and build relationships with people I may only see two or three times a year comes in the greeting I receive when I walk through the door. More often than not I am greeted with a smile by people that are genuinely glad to see me. That is priceless.

Entry Level Training is Just the Start

This  post was published in the April 2016 edition of Truck News

On February 22, 2016 the Ontario Government posted proposal number 16-MT0014 concerning Mandatory Entry Level Training, or MELT, as we have come to know it. The summary of proposal contained the following statement.
“The introduction or mandatory training, in addition to the testing requirements, is designed to ensure that commercial truck drivers are properly trained before they are licensed.”
Much will be made of this statement by all involved. It implies that MELT is a solution to the lack of driver training that currently exists across the trucking industry. It is not. It is merely the first step down the road. Why is that so? Because the proposal closes with the following statement.
“This proposal is not designed to impose new training obligations on existing Class A driver’s licence holders.”
Now I’m not saying that MELT is not needed. It definitely is. But existing licence holders don’t receive any training as a result of this proposal and new drivers will face an expectation from employers and the traveling public that they are far more competent than their predecessors. As professional drivers we should not allow the public, or our carriers, to perceive that MELT is the solution to fix everything that is wrong with driver training and truck safety.
I spent 3 years as a mentor to graduates of a few different truck driving academies. Those new drivers received excellent entry level training. But what really mattered to those drivers was to be hired by a reputable employer and put their new found skills into practice under the tutelage of an experienced driver in real world situations. To these drivers entry level training is just that, a foot in the door to a new and exciting chapter in their lives. Why doesn’t the industry exploit this incredible learning opportunity? Probably because it is so labour intensive and difficult to envision beyond the expense line on a company’s operating statement.
The program I was able to put together with the help of my employer was based on the knowledge I had garnered through numerous trainer training courses and experience as a manager and business owner prior to my rebirth as a trucker. I spent a minimum of 3 months with each new driver. The first month was demonstrate and repeat, repeat, repeat, increasing the challenges in the training process day by day and discussing skills in detail. It was a period to develop trust and comfort in the cab. The second month saw drivers taking full responsibility under my supervision asking for support as they needed it. The third month saw the addition of some extreme driving conditions in which we reverted to the demonstrate and repeat, repeat, repeat model of the first month but now the new driver was instilled with a level of confidence and a stronger skill set to cope with the challenges. It was a program that was very well received by the new recruits and my employer.
But at the end of 3 years I was of the mind that no single individual or single carrier can carry on this intense level of training in perpetuity without broad support from across the industry. Ironically this is how the MELT program has been developed.
To act as a mentor is to serve as a trusted counselor or teacher, especially in occupational settings. Safety is embodied by an intense period of mentoring provided by professional driver/trainers that make permanent the skills drivers have learned through introductory training. Practice only makes perfect if a learned skill is repeated under the supervision of a qualified coach and mentor. That process needs to be institutionalized across the trucking industry.
Now is the time for professional drivers to step up and take possession of this critical file. Road safety is a driver issue, drivers own it. Drivers should be involved heavily in every step of the training process and its development. The answer as to how drivers will accomplish this is straightforward. Get involved. But we can’t do it as individuals, we have to take on this challenge as a group. Therein lies the hurdle drivers have been unable to overcome because we not only have to bring our skills together as a group but we then have to interact with carriers, enforcement, training institutions, and legislative bodies. That’s a huge task and is usually met with people throwing up their arms and saying it can’t be done. But it can be done in four distinct stages.
        I.            MELT
      II.            Mentoring for 3-6 months
    III.            Team driving for a period of 1 year
    IV.            Remedial/Ongoing training developed by all partners and made available universally across the industry

This is the path to recognizing our profession for what it is, a skilled trade, and it will only come to fruition is professional drivers take an active role in its development. At the moment there are too few experienced drivers engaged in the training process. We can change that.

Getting Involved in Decision Making

This post was published in the March 2016 edition of Truck News

Drivers make split second decisions all day every day, that’s a fact. A driver is not able to, and definitely does not want to, send their decisions to committee or put off a decision until the next legislative session. But that is the way the world works when it comes to the bureaucracy that governs our industry. To coin a phrase; it drives drivers crazy. This point was made clear to me when I was doing a little review of some of my past columns and came across “Keeping an Open Mind about the Potential of Electronic On board Recorders”, a piece I wrote for the April 2010 issue of Truck News. The theme of this piece was the need for drivers to have flexibility in how they plan their day. That same theme repeated itself in my column last month. That’s six years folks and we’re still waiting on a decision on electronic logging devices here in the great white north.
I’ve been searching for a way to convince my fellow drivers to participate in events that take place outside the wheelhouse of the truck in order to influence the decision makers. I’ve had little success convincing drivers to participate in industry safety meetings and events. I know there is incredible value to be had to the individual driver and to the industry as a whole because drivers are the repository of safety knowledge through lived experience that is largely left untapped. Drivers detest inaction, indecisiveness, and bureaucracy. Combine that with the authoritarian nature of the leadership that has molded this industry over the years and it has left drivers feeling that participation is fruitless.
But we should never lose sight of the fact that as individual drivers we do have influence. The late Stephen Covey wrote about the circles of influence we all have in our lives and how they overlap with others. One of the influences we have as drivers is within the companies we work for or are affiliated with as owner operators. We neglect to take an active role in events and meetings put on by the very companies we depend upon for our livelihood. The owners and executives of those companies (no matter how big or small) have a much larger influence than the individual driver within the transportation hierarchy. We can tap in to that and make our voices heard simply by participating actively in something as simple as the drivers’ safety meeting.
I think that drivers should be using this channel to question decisions and policy. It has been my experience that questioning authority rather than simply accepting decisions that affect your daily life is appreciated by your employer and business associates when it is done in an objectively critical way. It’s not about who can scream the loudest to get their own way. It’s about bringing the wealth of your experience to the table. As a group drivers don’t do that. I’ve sat in many driver meetings over the years with people that have had plenty to gripe about at the truck stop but when it comes to piping up in front of the company executive in a group session they remain silent. Why? This is the perfect setting for discussion and debate about the issues that really matter to drivers.
Drivers should realise that if you can impress your experience and ideas upon the managers and owners then the driver’s circle of influence within the industry is expanded in turn.
But the responsibility for culture change doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of drivers. Far from it. This was made clear to me in a recent discussion with a colleague about participating in industry events as a driver.
Networking and educational events are sponsored by a wide range of trucking industry players. The top 100 Canadian trucking companies along with carrier organizations play a heavy role in sponsoring these events. As a consequence many of their own employees are participants as speakers, panelists, etc. This is fair in the sense that they are footing the bill but it doesn’t speak to the diversity within our industry. There are thousands upon thousands of individual drivers that don’t have a carrier to pay fees of up to $300 or more for an educational seminar and networking event plus those drivers have to take unpaid time off to participate. This needs to change. These events not only educate put they drive policy and influence trucking culture in a big way.

So let’s try and make our voices heard drivers, however we can. You don’t have to attend a seminar you only have to speak up at your next drivers meeting and ask that your views be shared widely. Then you can share your experience through social media so your fellow drivers can benefit. You do have influence, please use it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

January 26, 2016

Woke up expecting the worst this morning but my fears were allayed when I drew back the curtains. It was snowy but a full blown storm had not developed overnight. Good deal.

After pretripping the truck and crawling out of the truck stop I found the interstate mostly bare and wet, just a few sections east of Mauston with some remaining snowpack on which the road salt was still doing its work.

Today was one of the better drives around Chicago, no delays, caught it after the morning rush. Quick stop for lunch at the Michigan welcome Centre, across the border in minutes, at the yard by 21:00, home by 23:00. Perfect. Four days, 4,400 km.

Today was one of those trucking days I just get lost in my own thoughts. I have a lot of days like that, lol. Today it was thoughts about conservatism, the old vs the new. Maybe share those thoughts one day, but today's not the day.