Friday, 8 December 2017

Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Influence Change

This Post First Appeared in the June 2017 edition of Truck News

 In April of 1970 David Brower founded Earth Day and coined the slogan “think globally, act locally”. It is a term that can be, and is, applied widely outside the environmental movement. According to New Geography the phrase “…..exemplifies the Millennial Generation’s outlook towards implementing societal changes on a direct, local level and their belief in changing the world one community at a time.”

Last month I ended my column with the words - A universal method of training & certification is the only way to manage this (technological) 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.

That statement is a global one not a local one. Big ideas are great but we need to be able to act on them as individuals to bring them to fruition. This is outside our individual sphere of influence. So what do we do if we want to influence change?

One way to influence change is to throw your support behind people like Shelley Uvanile-Hesch and the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada. (WTFC)

Shelley is a full time trucker and founder of WTFC. Don’t let the name of her organization deceive you, it is not for women only. Although its focus is to assist women breaking into the trucking industry it does so by focusing on training and mentorship. She brings together experienced truckers with newly licensed truckers, integrity based carriers, and training organizations. As she likes to say WTFC is about creating a network for drivers by drivers. The WTFC slogan is “Join our drive to drive”.

Whereas I have the privilege of presenting my thoughts and ideas in this column each month WTFC brings training to the front line. They do some great grassroots social media work such as creating mentoring groups that bring seasoned drivers and new drivers together. WTFC is a non-profit run by a board of professional drivers. WTFC provides a wonderful place for those interested in joining the trucking industry to go for a driver’s perspective on the industry. Go to the WTFC website and to their Facebook page to get the full picture.

Shelley and her associates in the women’s trucking movement deserve huge kudos for the efforts they are putting forth. They are making a difference while still driving full time. It’s a huge challenge for them. But this is what happens when drivers that live and breathe trucking get sick and tired of watching from the sidelines and jump in feet first to make a difference. We can support them and participate ourselves by becoming a member of their organization. This is an effective way to bring the expertise and experience of drivers to the cutting edge of the rapid changes that are happening right now in the trucking industry.

Another effective way to act out locally and influence change is to speak up within your own company. Don’t underestimate the power of your own voice. Any credible employer values the front line experience you bring to their organization. After all, you as a driver are the face of the company you work for. Don’t undervalue the importance of your position in this regard. In fact I’m surprised that we spend so little time bringing customer service training to the driver. How often do you as the driver end up solving customer service issues on the loading dock? It happens all the time. I have a feeling that drivers will be taking on a larger role on the customer service and public relations front as we move forward.

So joining organizations that represent the interest of drivers and speaking up as a driving professional within your own company are just two ways of acting out on a local level and influencing broader change. It’s incremental change, but it works.

Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our Industry

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

We live in the age of multi-tasking. To be plugged in and tuned in all the time is the norm.  We live in the age of the busy mind. But a professional driver is expected to be tuned in to the task at hand for long periods of time day in and day out. Distraction is one of the key safety issues we face today. Before we spend a large amount of time and effort trying to attract young people to the driving profession shouldn’t we be asking some uncomfortable questions? Are we taking in to account the changing popular culture? Are we stuck in a trucking culture of the past? Are we guilty of not adapting to a changing world?

Perhaps professional drivers are a dying breed and that’s a fact we simply don’t want to face. I know many of you reading this may feel that we will always need a “pilot” in the cab. But that opinion does not mesh with the goals of Artificial Intelligence and the vision of a connected world. It’s time to put our emotional attachments to our love of driving for a living aside and do our best to take an objective look at our world. Artificial intelligence is going to turn our world inside out and upside down for the next several decades and it’s starting now.

I listened to a radio documentary recently by Ira Basen titled “Into the Deep: The Promise and Perils of Artificial Intelligence.” This documentary investigates “deep learning”, the ability of computers to think in very human ways. You can find it on the CBC Sunday Edition website if you want to give it a listen. I found it fascinating, exciting, and somewhat terrifying. It’s worth an hour of your time.
The most uncomfortable part of listening to this documentary is when you are introduced to “Flippy”. Flippy is a robot imbued with artificial intelligence. Flippy started work at a Pasadena California fast food restaurant in March of this year. He may be replacing 2.3 million fast food cooks in the US in the very near future. Officially Flippy is called a kitchen assistant and sells for about $30,000, or about the annual salary of one of those fast food cooks he replaces. When production is rolled out the price of that kitchen assistant will be around $10,000. As Ira Basen states in his documentary, “You do the math”.

In the trucking industry we have been focusing on automated trucks and how they impact drivers as a piece of stand-alone technology. But what if there is a “Truckey” in our future? A robot endowed with artificial intelligence that works along with the automated truck performing the tasks of the human driver. Perhaps Truckey will interact with Shippy on the loading dock. It’s hard not to think of this scenario as something out of a Hollywood movie and not a real possibility in our near future.
The thing is we are really not very good at envisioning what the future may hold for us. This is especially true if you have spent your lifetime working in this great industry as a driver. Artificial Intelligence and the changes it will bring to pass is not a trucking industry issue. It is an issue that changes our human society on a global scale. It does not matter what your profession is. You will be impacted in some way shape or form. Yes, there will be jobs created by this new technology but there will be far more jobs that will be made obsolete as a result.

The solution to our driver shortage is probably not where we think it is as we look at it through the lens of our past experience. As drivers we should stop worrying about what the future holds and enjoy every day we have on the road. We may very well be the last of a dying breed.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Dear Brother - 2

Dear Brother,

This morning I find myself with a little bit of time on my hands. In the trucking industry many drivers would say that downtime is their biggest problem. I say that the biggest problem is that downtime doesn't come when you need it most, at home with your family. It usually comes unlooked for out here on the road. But that doesn't mean it can't be made of good use. So here I am.

Today I am in Black River Falls, Wisconsin at the Flying J travel plaza. That's a progressive way of saying truck stop. For some reason "truck stop" and "trucker" and "trucking" are being shunned from our lexicon in an attempt to bring the industry into the 20th century by the new "transportation professionals". I am now a "professional driver". There seems to be no room for the free thinking self made individuals in today's world of the highly trained elite. Without a string of accreditations after my name that echo the ideas and "best practices" of the majority I remain a "trucker". Fuck the mainstream. Trucking has been built on freedom, ingenuity, independence, accountability, service to others, and entrepreneurship. That's the attraction. Mainstream corporate professionals run the business out of the boardroom. Sure, that works. It's sanitary and boring for all but a handful at the top. That defines the world we live in at the moment doesn't it?

Wow! Don't ask me where that came from but I feel better for it.

Today I am picking up my boss - our company president and owner - up in Duluth, Minnesota. J&R Hall Transport is a mid sized privately owned company with over 50 highway tractors, 20 day cabs, 4 terminals across Canada, and around 150 employees. Today the founder of that organization will jump in a truck with one of his drivers for an 8 hour trip and do some of the driving. I'm proud to say that I work for a "trucking" company that embraces the values that built it. Integrity, honesty, and loyalty aren't just buzz words here. They matter to the owner. I matter to the owner. That's why I've been here for over 14 years now.

Many aspects of this work are truly shitty. The time away from home being central to the angst it fosters within me. But I have my freedom and independence. We are adapting technology to enhance those abilities not to control them. Ingenuity and an entrepreuneurial approach by employees is encorouged through simple incentive programs with a higher than average monetary return. Accountability is achieved through recognition rather than monitoring performance through third party metrics.

Trucking is a tough business. It's getting tougher as Artificial Intelligence is added to the mix. More about that at some other time. I'm starting to rant. Hahaha.

And how are you brother? 

I hope you are able to build a regular routine at home now that you are out of the hospital again. Going in to the clinic everyday is a pain in the butt, but hopefully that will keep you in your own bed every night and contribute to building your strength both physically and mentally in a way that sitting in a hospital room cannot. It was wonderful to hear the sound of ease in your voice as we talked last week. As I said in our conversation please don't hesitate to call on those days when you feel down. It doesn't matter that I'm on the road. Leave a message and I'll get back to you at my first rest stop.

I should get home late on Tuesday night this week so we'll chat again on Wednesday or Thursday over our morning coffee.

So I'll head into the "TRUCK" stop (lol) now and hook up to WiFi so I can send this email as I've been working offline on my laptop to write this letter. Then it's time to pretrip and get on the road. It's a stunning morning out here and I'm looking forward to the ride.

May you be happy. May you be strong.

Sending loving thoughts to you both,

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Dear Brother - 1

Dear brother,

I was up at 03:45 today and on the road shortly after. I hope you were sleeping peacefully at that ungodly hour. The temperature plummeted overnight to -9°C with a windchill of -20. Only 5 more months of winter! I'm getting to old for this shit. Lol.

The wind was still blowing and gusting this morning but had shifted to a north westerly direction so I was getting a nice tail wind instead of that awful cross wind I experienced last night. Sailboat fuel can be dangerous to transport. Nothing worse than an empty trailer in a crosswind.

So it was down to Fargo for fuel and a shower at the t-stop then over to Perham Minnesota for 45,000 lbs of pet food.

Now I'm just about to close my eyes here in Wisconsin and hopefully be home late tomorrow night. No guarantee on that. It's the busiest travel day of the year in the US tomorrow. Thanksgiving Eve.
I'll have an 03:30 start (central time) and hopefully Chicago rush hour traffic will be a little lighter than normal before everyone gets on the road to Mom and Dad's place.

So I hope you got news on your MRI today and your continuing to build all your numbers. Most of all I hope both you and your sweetie stay positive. I know that's easy for me to say but I don't say it lightly.

I'm struggling to find words. I felt the depth of your struggle and your suffering when we spoke last week. There's nothing I can say that will take away your physical pain and discomfort. But I know you can find peace of mind in the present moment through the love you both share because you've been showering that love on others your whole lives.

It is debilitating when our thoughts turn to a deep craving for things as they once were. It saps our strength and imbues us with a sense of helplessness. It magnifies our pain and suffering within.

I love you dear brother. There is not a day that goes by without me sending thoughts of healing and recovery to you.

May you both be at ease.
May you both find peace in every day.


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.