Friday, 5 May 2017

We Can't Attract More Drivers While Automating the Profession

This post firt appeared in the May, 2017 edition of Truck News

If we are going to attract young people to a career in the trucking industry we need more than just a new marketing plan preaching a set of motherhood values based on past performance and the freedom of the open road.

“When Robots Take Bad Jobs” is the headline of an article written in The Atlantic and published online February 27, 2017. It is worth a read. (see here)  It highlights everything that is wrong with the trucking industry in the United States from the perspective of a new hire. Our employment standards here in Canada are not the same as our neighbours to the south. Broadly speaking we have more protections in place for individuals entering the industry but the push towards ‘contractors’ over ‘employees’ continues to bleed across the border. This article paints a picture of an industry that wouldn’t be a young person’s first career choice.

The online trucking news site CCJ Digital published an article on March 17, 2017 (see here) about Celadon Tech that outlines how their lease operators are now able to haul for other carriers. Although it was written from the perspective of enabling owner operators and giving them more choice it is not difficult to read between the lines and see how this is a first step towards combating the uberization of the freight market. It moves dispatching into the driver’s seat. A different twist on automation.

Over at on February 28, 2017 they report on Starsky Robotics. (see here) This is a trucking company that is operating trucks remotely. Experienced drivers are operating trucks from the office. Capabilities are limited at present but they have been in business for 2 years, have serious funding, and are expanding their operation. They have already done some driver-less highway haul and have plans to get drivers out of some trucks by the end of 2017. This is an example of using automation to have individual experienced drivers control multiple trucks from a central location.

These three examples highlight the multitude of changes the trucking industry is embroiled in at the present moment. We have a push from the top chasing after greater returns on investment through mergers & acquisitions, adoption of new technologies, and driving down employee costs. At the same time there is constant messaging about attracting new blood to the industry. So we’re telling people how great this industry is to work in while we continue to undermine driver compensation and look for new ways to make a driver’s job redundant.

Is it really as bad as it looks on the surface? No, not from the perspective of drivers that work for progressive companies that recognize the value of the synergy between well trained professional drivers and emerging technology.

This is where I pick up the drum I’ve been beating for the past several months. Training, certification, and a universal apprenticeship program. It’s time to realize the free market isn’t the be all and end all for solving the human resource problems at the driver level.

The way to attract new blood into our industry is to market a clear career path to prospective drivers. That means bringing together government, training institutions, trucking companies, and equipment manufacturers under the same roof. That’s a big ask but it has to be done and requires leadership from government to put forward legislation focused on long term growth rather than short term return on investment.

Technology is not going to replace drivers. It will reduce the number of drivers required. It will create specialized operators of heavy equipment on our roads that will require a higher level of training. The job of the driver is going to change. A universal method of training & certification is the only way to manage this change in a way that will minimize disruption across the trucking industry while defining the job of the truck operator in a rapidly changing market. That’s what we need to attract new blood.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Road Inside

I woke this past Sunday morning and reached for my phone to check the time. A typical day for me. Rising in the truck, making my bed, making coffee, a bowl of cereal, washing my face, brushing my teeth, and so on. The comfort of bringing routine to the constant change of the road.

The email icon was alive in the notification bar on my phone. Junk mail on this Sunday morning? No. A message from my brother.

"....... I am in hospital.....pain in my joints......bloodwork......white cells cells low.....platelets low..... waiting for you all"


It's in these moments that the cab of a long haul truck turns from being a means of freedom & adventure to one of isolation & seperation.

I love my brother.

The road inside our heads is the most difficult to travel.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Traditional Methods of Attracting Drivers Won't Work

This post first appeared in the April 2017 edition of Truck News

Carriers are in a pickle when it comes to dealing with the shortage of qualified drivers. Simply put, it’s a job that fewer people are interested in taking up. It’s not seen as a viable career choice due to the lifestyle issues. This is especially true in the category of long haul full truckload work. It’s very difficult to find any hard numbers but it’s accepted in the industry that about half of the people that obtain a class A (class 1) licence don’t last beyond the first year. Carriers must also deal with the fact that half of the current drivers will reach retirement age in the next 10-15 years.

Over the past couple of years there has been a focus on attracting more women to the industry. Women are mobilizing and organizing themselves. That is resulting in a recognition of the need for professional training & mentoring programs, health & wellness programs, safe havens for parking, and clean accessible washroom facilities suitable for all drivers. This is also fueling a push to change the public image of the trucking industry and show it in a more positive light. These efforts are attracting new blood to the industry but it may be too little too late.

The problem is we don’t know where we are headed when it comes to what a driver’s job will look like over the course of a 40 year career. This is a result of the technology boom. It is not simply about when or if fully autonomous trucks will make their debut. If you are looking to choose a career at 21-25 years old why would you choose the trucking industry? I hate to admit this but I would not recommend it to my grandchildren as it stands today. Trucking as an entrepreneurial pathway to independence was a big attraction in the past but the industry is consolidating into fewer and larger global players. Finding a niche to compete in as an independent trucker is becoming difficult if not impossible.

With that consolidation comes a high degree of control over what happens in the cab of a truck. One of the greatest attractions to driving a commercial vehicle in the past was the freedom a driver experienced on the road. You were very much your own boss, even as an employee. Many drivers now find their time managed by the home office even to the point of having to travel specific routes at specific times. Drivers are finding themselves on a leash as a result of how technology is being employed and many drivers don’t care for it. It is not an attractive recruiting tool.

Maybe I’m out to lunch on this whole issue. Working as a long haul driver where I am now I continue to experience a feeling of empowerment and control over my life. I’m made to feel an important part of the team because my voice, my concerns, matter. It’s not that I can do whatever I want, it’s that I maintain control over my day, the equipment I operate, and the responsibility of delivering on time is my own. Most of all this puts my personal safety in my own hands. That’s incredibly important.

The advice I offer to the industry is to make sure every driver has the ability to contribute and share their experience. There needs to be a bottom up approach to problem solving and implementing technology in meaningful ways that advance a drivers quality of life AND advance productivity. We need a universal system of training and recognition to level the playing field for drivers and carriers alike. Yesterday’s pathway into the trucking industry for new drivers was through ownership. Today’s pathway for new driver’s needs to be through professional accreditation. The same way we do it in the front office.

Drivers Play a Major Role in Reducing Fuel Usage

This post first appeared in the March 2017 edition of Truck News

At the core of any training program for drivers is the need to repeat, repeat, and repeat. That repetition makes practice permanent not necessarily perfect. So the need to monitor, assess, and hone training programs is as important as the delivery of those programs to drivers. The trucking industry fails miserably on both of these counts. The only universally mandated ongoing training Canadian drivers receive is for the Transportation of Dangerous Goods, once every 3 years. My best guess is that professional drivers in Canada will receive between zero and forty hours of safety training from their carrier annually. My 18 years of experience tells me most drivers training time will be closer to zero than to forty.

As someone with a background in the delivery of training programs I recognize the importance of self-assessment in relation to my own performance. My income, personal safety, and professional reputation are dependent on keeping my skills sharp and my knowledge up to date.

One of the things I do each year is review the SmartDriver for Highway Trucking program made available online by Natural Resources Canada. It’s a free program proven to help improve fuel efficiency by up to 35%. Safety and fuel bonuses are a significant part of my financial compensation so this is important to me.

So as I was reading my February 2017 issue of Truck News and saw the headline ‘Budget should focus on low-carbon trucking’ by the Canadian Trucking Alliances’ (CTA) CEO David Bradley the question that first sprung up in my mind was in regard to available training dollars and programs for professional drivers. After all, improving fuel efficiency is still largely in the hands of the driver and this is the most direct way to reduce carbon emissions, cut operating costs, increase profits, and keep a carrier competitive.

But no, despite an industry focus on training & recruiting drivers of late, the CTA submission to the federal government stated in its introduction, “The 2017 federal budget can play a significant role assisting and accelerating investment in equipment and technology designed to reduce GHG from trucking”.

Absent was any mention of the role the driver plays in the trucking industry’s ability to meet new emissions regulation standards.

The CTA goes on to say in its submission that, “Carbon reducing programs that target long-haul trucks will generate the most return on government investment as this sector of the trucking industry consumes the most fuel.” The government recognizes that drivers’ impact fuel efficiency by up to 35% so why doesn’t the CTA?

I care deeply about the plight of other drivers and the health of our industry as a whole, I recognise that a driver’s welfare and well-being is tied directly to the success or failure of the carrier he or she works with. The CTA has assumed a mantle of leadership in the trucking industry by speaking for the over 4,500 companies it represents as a federation of provincial trucking associations. In doing so it also represents the 400,000 direct jobs in the Canadian trucking industry, 300,000 of which are truck drivers. These are the CTA’s own numbers. By focusing on GHG reduction solely through investment in equipment & technology, while ignoring investment in human resources, the CTA is slapping drivers in the face and fueling a growing disregard for carrier associations amongst the rank & file.
Let’s not forget that the CTA’s own Blue Ribbon Task Force on the driver shortage had some strong things to say about how drivers are treated. A minimum standard of entry level training, recognition as a skilled trade, and mandatory ongoing training/certification were recognized as core values for drivers. This much lauded report was to lead the change in recognizing and treating drivers as skilled professionals.

The CTA should be lobbying the federal government to be partnering in funding these initiatives not allowing them to gather dust on the shelf.

It's a Different World for Millenials

This post first appeared in the February 2017 edition of Truck News

Looking for happiness in the golden days of the past is a fool’s errand. We do that in our politics, in our personal relationships, and it’s a practice we follow in the trucking industry. Even if we could duplicate past experiences that our minds have enshrined as golden oldies we have no way of duplicating the circumstances from which they grew. Times change and our well-being is dependent on our ability to adapt.

I had the pleasure of taking a young “millennial” with me on one of my weekly Winnipeg rounders’ just before Christmas. This new young driver has been working for our company part time in a variety of warehouse positions and just obtained his learners permit for a class ‘A’ (class 1) truck license. He has been shunting trucks & trailers around our yard for a few years and was eager to see the open road and visit one of our other facilities.

When we talk about millennials and boomers we often re-enforce stereotypes around the generation gap that exists between us. But what I took away from our short trip together was how we share the same values across the generations. It was easy to see within the first few hours together that young people today are no less passionate about their interests than boomers such as myself were in our youth. But through our conversation over the course of the week I learned there is one stark difference between our generations.

When I was a young man at 20 years of age I faced a world that was filled with opportunity and riches yet to be discovered. That was how we viewed the world, or perhaps it’s better to say that is the way the world was presented to my generation. It was a very positive outlook. I thank my parents for that every day. Now contrast that to the world we are handing off to our young people and the prevailing attitudes of today. It’s very much every person for themselves in a world where the social contract between business and the individual has been severed or is on life support.

I am sure that many young people look at the world as a fixer upper that has been neglected by the previous tenants. The structure is sound but it needs gutting and retro-fitting. This is a metaphor that fits the trucking industry perfectly.

Fully half of us that drive today are of the boomer generation. Changes are being rained down on us on what feels like a daily basis. Our expectation as young people was stability and growth. We would commit to a job for life and in return for that sweat equity and loyalty there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Well, we never allowed for any twists in the plot and here we are. It’s time we take off our rose coloured glasses and recognize that young people today face a more difficult road than we did at the same age.

My young friend that made that trip with me was filled with the same passion for trucking as all of the old dogs on the road but he recognizes that change is imminent. He is not looking at driving a truck for life to provide for himself and a family. He recognizes that driving is just one of the skills you need. Tomorrow’s trucker will need a skill set that extends far beyond the inside of a truck’s cab. In fact a trucker up to this point has been viewed as a lone wolf, independent and free from the constraints of a regular “job”. Drivers of the future need to be connected, not isolated, if they want to prosper.

I have no idea on what trucking in 2050 is going to look like. I’m certain it will be very different from today. That’s a safe bet and an understatement.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Making The Most Out of Weight Loss Challenges

This post appeared in the January 2017 edition of Truck News.

The formula for staying healthy on the road is a simple one. Eat less and exercise more.

I was reminded of this when I crossed paths with Glen at the Pass Lake Flying J, a driver I had worked with at J&R Hall in the past. He’d lost a bunch of weight and was looking fit and happy. He was now running lanes mostly to Virginia and South Carolina that gave him the time to walk for an hour each morning and evening. Glen told me he still ate basically the same food he always had just less of it. Glen had found a formula that worked for him on the road with a carrier that afforded him the time to care for himself.

With another year dawning many of us will be turning our thoughts to weight loss and kicking the nicotine habit. Our intentions are good, we know the change will benefit us, but being tethered to a seat for an average of 12 hours a day simply works against us. The chips, twizzlers, cookies, and cigarettes are a way to pass the time. The tight schedules, limited sleep time, and mental fatigue at the end of the day feed our inability to get out and move. It’s even more difficult for teams that simply never stop moving.

Despite all of that working against us many of us that drive for a living still find a way to break those habits that drag us down and form new ones that are beneficial, but it takes discipline and tenacity.  Sometimes you need a little push, a little encouragement, a little pat on the back, to keep you on track. This is where a carrier can play a leading role.

Step challenges and weight loss challenges have become a staple with a number of carriers of late. We had our first weight loss challenge at J&R Hall take place from September 1 to December 15. At the time of this writing the final results aren’t in but I’m down 25 lbs with just a couple of weeks left in the challenge. Having that weigh in commitment each month was the piece of the puzzle I needed to break my procrastination. Health professionals tell us one of the best ways to develop healthy life choices is to do it in the company of others in order to find that added encouragement and motivation. For the lone wolf driver these challenges help provide that connection.

There is no doubt that for carriers and their employees/owner operators these challenges are a win/win in so many ways. So having nearly completed my first challenge I have some feedback for employers.

First I suggest you create categories for drivers and for inside employees when comparing results and providing rewards for total steps or weight loss percentage over the course of the challenge. Why? Because drivers do not have the option of moving from a seated position for most of their day. Reaching a 10,000 step daily milestone is a huge achievement for an OTR driver. Employees in non-driving positions can hit 20,000 plus steps in a day. With greater activity comes greater weight loss so when involved in weight loss challenges drivers will, on average, lose weight at a slower rate than inside staff. So keeping driver and non-driver results separate allows everyone to compare apples to apples.

Second I suggest you set up a private Facebook group, Google group, or email group for participants in each challenge. It should be loosely structured and allow for participants to share their experience rather than just results. It’s great to find out where other drivers stop to walk or exercise, how they changed their eating habits and so on. Connecting to others across the whole company that face the same hurdles as you do is what builds camaraderie and open communication. That is a winning formula for all.

Technology Should Empower Not Control

This post appeared in the December 2016 issue of Truck News

Sitting in the driver’s seat relaxing after a walk, I was reviewing information gathered by my Fitbit. Noticing the satellite console to my right I was struck by the thought of how these two technologies perform the same function.

Both the Fitbit on my wrist and the satellite that connects my truck simply gather large amounts of data and sort it into meaningful trends that serve as scores and benchmarks to measure my performance.

For those of you not familiar with a Fitbit it is basically a sensor that tracks your heart rate, calorie burn, exercise, sleep, and so on. You wear it in the guise of a wristwatch and see all of the data it gathers displayed on your smartphone or desktop in graphic form for a meaningful picture of your overall health. You don’t have to spend any time measuring or inputting information. No paperwork involved.

The satellite system in my truck performs the same basic function in a similar manner. It gathers information to measure my performance as a driver.

There is a profound difference in how information collected by my Fitbit is used compared to how the information gathered by my trucks performance management software is used even though they are designed to achieve the same result of improving performance. The Fitbit data is immediately available to me in a meaningful form motivating me in the present moment. It is flexible and encourages innovation. The performance management module in my truck is designed as an information source for the carrier in order to manage individual performance. One system empowers, the other controls.

My Fitbit has a far greater impact on my personal health and safety than the system that is designed to manage my on the job performance. This was made evident by something I was not looking for when I started using a Fitbit. Measuring my sleep.

I had convinced myself over the years that I am a five to six hour per night sleeper. That is always the way it has been for me. But seeing my sleep patterns in graphic form each morning had me questioning the quality and length of my sleep in relation to how I have been feeling over the past few years in relation to fatigue. I have not been adjusting my work and rest patterns as I age.  Seeing an analysis of my sleep, its quality and length, on a daily basis helped me to immediately recognize some changes I needed to make to my daily schedule. In just a few short months my average length of sleep increased to almost seven hours per day from less than six. The positive affect on me has been immediate and dramatic.

A little innovation goes a long way. The simple action of making vital information available in a usable format makes innovation possible. We’re not doing that in the cab of today’s truck. Carriers continue to parcel out information as they see fit in the form of policy and enforcement. This is yesterday’s paradigm and not a plan for the future.

One of the great topics of discussion in the trucking sector is how to attract millennials to the driver’s seat. Millennials are always described these days in terms of individuals that want control of their work environment, multi-taskers that foster innovation through interaction. So why are we moving in the opposite direction within the trucking industry? Why is technology used in the truck cab focused on controlling drivers rather than encouraging independence and innovation?

Imagine what a driver could do if the information gathered by todays performance management software were made available in a meaningful format. What gains could be made in fuel management, preventative maintenance, time management, and overall productivity? We need to change the way we share and consume the data that directly affects a driver’s performance. I think it would be an enlightened change. A change that is past due.