Life and Family

Doing Your Job


Career Path

by Jim Park
Untitled Document In this day and age, it's crazy to assume that anyone entering the trucking industry would want to spend the next 40 years driving a truck. But that seems to be what the industry hopes for in a new recruit. Far from finding a job for life, today's worker will change careers about five times, says career professional Margaret Livingstone, president of Margaret J. Livingstone and Associates, a Vancouver-based human resources consulting firm.

"Not just different jobs, different careers," she says.

A friend of mine calls a career in trucking just a job that's gone on too long, which might be one of the reasons trucking doesn't have a broader appeal. What's left to keep people in the seats after the excitement and the thrill of the first few hundred thousand miles have worn off? At that point, it's just another job. And it's not hard to find more rewarding work than trucking these days. What with all the security requirements, strict enforcement, unpaid delays, etc., this industry demands an awful lot of a driver.

The kind of change Livingstone is referring to would see a truck driver switching into a position in operations, logistics management, or maybe marketing, or moving out of trucking altogether, not just changing carriers for a different-colored truck. If trucking can't or won't recognize the impact of what she is saying, is it doomed to keep making the same mistakes?

In the past, trucking could reasonably expect a driver to put in 20-30 years service, often working for several different carriers, but that model just won't wash with today's youth. Young people are looking for growth potential in a job, and trucking isn't perceived as offering much beyond the steering wheel.

Improved retention has become a real issue of late, but we're about to lose a great number of the people we're trying so hard to retain.

Roy Craigen, general manager of TRANSCOM, a trucking-specific training and management consulting firm, says the average Canadian Class 1 licence holder is 57 years old. That means a great many of our current drivers will be leaving the industry over the next five years.

Craigen, until recently general manager of ECL's Edmonton-based general-freight division, points to research conducted by the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council (CTHRC), which says there were 662,400 Class 1 (A) licences in Canadian back pockets in 2001. Yet CTHRC was able to identify only about 250,000 working truckers. That suggests there are many, like me, who have a licence but have found some other way of earning a living.

"We have entered a five-year era of rapid attrition. Even if every carrier in the country became extremely good at retention - overnight - we'll still lose most of our existing driver population by 2010," Craigen warns.

So if hanging on to the existing driver pool isn't an option, what is trucking to do?

Clearly, the future lies, as it does in other sectors, with young people. But if you compare today's 20-something potential entry-level driver with the equivalent person in the late 1970s, they're worlds apart, Craigen says.

The grade-12 graduate of today has completed a high school education that rivals university programs of the 1970s. The average 25-year-old today has 14 years of computer experience under his belt when he walks into the recruiting process. And the career possibilities that await these people at age 25 are limited only by their imagination. Yet trucking employs the same recruiting strategies it did three decades ago.

What, then, can trucking offer those people to keep them interested for a lifetime?

A career path.

Offering Opportunity
"Today's new drivers are decidedly different people," Craigen notes. "They want a great deal more in a career than 40 years of steering and gearing a truck. There are so many more career opportunities today than even a decade ago, that trucking can't hope to compete for the available pool of talent with its current career path. Trucking needs to do an awful lot more to attract young people today."

Craigen believes the key to attracting young people is to offer them opportunities to improve themselves, personally and professionally, along with their career prospects.

He's presently seeking support for a program he's calling 'Career Path', which espouses giving good employees an opportunity for a better future. Career Path is mostly about education. It recognizes that some people need help with the English language, while others are capable of an MBA. Under Career Path, drivers could avail themselves of either, and a great deal more in between, with the employer providing the incentive and the opportunity.

"Let's face it, with distance-learning opportunities, self-study courses, on-line university programs, the cab of a truck could be a great place to advance your career," Craigen says. "Under Career Path, if a carrier encouraged and facilitated the learning process, the driver could study during the idle hours, making that lost time much more productive."

Craigen points to the Canadian Armed Forces as an example. Young people are going into the military today to gain an education for future careers. The military is selling career potential in its recruitment advertising because it believes that will attract young, ambitious people who want something more than just a job that pays the bills.

The price you pay for building career skills in the Armed Forces is crawling around in the mud and getting shot at. Trucking can offer better than that.

Even if driving a truck appealed to more people for a shorter period of time - on their way up the career ladder - we'd have a supply of people who saw trucking as a way of fulfilling other career ambitions, and that's more than we have right now. The upside for trucking is that some of them might decide to stay in trucking while satisfying their career ambitions. Not behind the wheel, perhaps, but within the industry.

A Professional Society
While Roy Craigen's plan surfaced officially just last month, he and I have been thinking along similar lines for quite some time. Back in 1995, I envisioned a sort of professional society for drivers, something along the lines of the Canadian Bar Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, or the Engineering Institute of Canada.

These groups serve their members in several ways: by developing professional standards of conduct and skill accreditation; by providing opportunities for personal and professional development; as a forum to exchange ideas; and for developing industry standards of performance.

Within the infrastructure of such a professional society, members could establish their own levels of accreditation based on skill, education, and experience, as well as setting up personal benefit, investment, and pension plans, to name a few. The society could develop a training curriculum that exceeds present standards, and might succeed in having it accepted nationally, thus relieving governments of the financial and political burden of establishing and regulating training and qualification standards, as is the case with the doctors' and lawyers' groups.

At the heart of such an organization, of course, would be personal and professional development. In this respect, the society could establish a recognized career path where members would progress through the ranks, earning accreditation as they go, up to a top-level driver. Along the way, members would have the opportunity for education and training as they see fit, but relevant to a specific level of experience (see the Career Path sidebar).

In the long run, the objective of the society would be to provide trucking companies with a competent and professional workforce, while establishing relationships with colleges or universities in order to develop a member's career beyond the driver's seat, perhaps in an academic or vocational degree program. The society would serve its members, the industry, and ultimately the public by encouraging personal growth while improving the caliber of drivers through training and development.

At present, there is no mechanism to track and accredit a driver's skill and experience beyond the present driver's records of violation. One thing a professional society could do is verify a driver's credentials and actually help the driver increase the potential of fulfilling his or her career objectives.

If carriers saw the benefits of employing drivers with a certified level of training and experience, and paid them accordingly, drivers might also see the benefits of belonging to an organization dedicated to furthering their training and skills, and ultimately their employability. If the insurance companies saw the benefit of a standard of training and accreditation that exceeds the existing standards, they might offer more attractive rates to the companies who employ these drivers.

A First Try
At least one fleet has gone some way down a similar road. In 1997 Winnipeg's Kleysen Transport established a self-governing internal 'fraternity' called Knights of the Road. Membership was voluntary, but within a year about a third of Kleysen's 600 drivers and owner-operators (at the time; the company has since restructured) had signed on. Conceived by company president and CEO Tom Kleysen but developed largely by the drivers themselves, it was an internal education program that aimed to recognize truck-driving as a profession - and to promote both excellence and professional pride in the drivers themselves. It was essentially a continuous-improvement regimen designed and maintained by the drivers themselves.

"The Knights of the Road program was founded on the belief that professional drivers have not been afforded the recognition, dignity and the respect that other professionals have commanded," Tom Kleysen said in 1998. "Lawyers, accountants, and engineers are all recognized professions because their members are defined by education, a code of conduct or ethics, and an on-going commitment to retaining their professional designation.

"Until now drivers have not had the opportunity to secure and maintain a professional designation that brings with it the recognition and rewards that, we believe, drivers deserve.

"Our feeling at Kleysen Transport, and more importantly among our drivers, is that an industry-wide professional designation recognizing the on-going achievement of professional drivers is long overdue. We sincerely hope that the Knights program can serve as a model for what we believe the industry should be doing to support all drivers and owner-operators in the industry."

The foundation of the program was a four-day course that went well beyond ordinary training content - it wasn't about driving expertise at all - to include topics like conflict resolution, customer service, health and wellness, and paperwork skills. Some of the course modules were those offered by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, while others were developed internally. Successful completion of the course - with a test at the end of each day - earned the candidate a Master Driver Certificate and membership in the Knights Council.

Once a Knight, the driver committed to at least two full days per year of further training, though it was the drivers themselves who determined how the standard would be maintained - or raised. Company managers could also take the course and thus become 'Associate Knights'.

Kleysen Knights earned an extra 1.5 cents per mile, we should note, and that attracted membership in the first place. But most members of the program eventually realized there were other benefits, like a better understanding of the company at large, better relationships with managers, and less conflict with customer personnel. One driver told us he'd learned to control his 'fuse', which had sometimes been a little short on the shipper's loading dock. The company saw benefits too: Knights had 39% fewer logbook violations than Kleysen drivers at large; 63% fewer accidents with damage over $500; and 24% lower turnover. Unfortunately, this good idea didn't attract copy-cats among other fleets and has since dissipated.

Is the Time Ripe?
Roy Craigen's Career Path concept may well be an idea whose time has come, if only so that trucking can keep up with trends in the workplace, and my idea of a professional society could help facilitate Roy's plan. At the end of the day, both would require the support of the entire trucking community, including governments, training schools, the insurance industry, and others. Pulling it all together would, admittedly, be quite a task.
The clock is ticking, as Craigen points out. We'll be in dire straits before long, without a huge chunk of our existing driver pool by 2010. Making trucking appeal to young people who are examining their career prospects is in our best interest. H

For a little more insight into the benefits of a career path, or to add your comments to the debate, contact Roy Craigen at 780- 449-7200 or transcom@telus.net; or me at 416-614-5811 or jpark@highwaystarmagazine.com.

Sidebar: Canada's Top 100 Employers

In its October 20, 2003 edition, Maclean's published a listing of Canada's Top 100 Employers, compiled by Mediacorp Canada and its magazine, Canada Employment Weekly. There was one only trucking company on the list: MSM Transportation of Bolton, Ont.

Among the more popular perks and benefits offered by the best companies to work for in Canada: paid tuition and time off for business-related training; on-site daycare and subsidized time-off for maternity or paternity leave; subsidized meals in the employee cafeteria; deferral of overtime pay in exchange for time off; generous performance bonuses and profit-sharing; extended vacation and additional personal days off; scholarships for employee offspring; and more.

The perks that earned MSM Transportation a spot at the top were, "overnight retreats at Muskoka-area cottages, bonus holidays, and free trips to California." Cited just as often in the poll, were "stimulating work environment", "healthy corporate culture," and other similar sentiments.

Increasingly, trucking will have to compete for young talent with companies offering these kinds of benefits, perks, and working environments. If trucking hopes to attract today's young people, it seems clear that it will eventually need to offer more than regular home time and condo sleepers.