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Pamphlets not enough to improve industry image: panel

MISSISSAUGA, ON – Industry employers need to overcome several barriers if they hope to attract a new generation of employees, according to several educators, career and guidance counselors. But the panelists, participating in the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario’s annual conference on Thursday, say there are several ways to reshape the image of trucking-related careers.

“I would suggest most kids don't have a perception of the industry, they don't really understand the industry. They have a Hollywood version. What they see on movies and TV,” said Jacquie Latham, association consultant with the Ontario School Counselors Association, adding that students don't have any real exposure to the industry and likely think of a career in trucking as a plan C for when plan B fails.

Latham said trucking companies need to do more than just drop off a pamphlet at their local high school's guidance office, and that companies should connect with guidance offices at local schools and take part in local career fairs.

Annie Kidder, founder and executive director of People for Education, says educators continue to steer students toward university educations. After all, it is the type of education they were exposed to themselves.

“All kids need to have skills, need to be confident in a wide array of areas,” said Kidder, adding that the industry should focus on promoting aspects of the job that aren't just about “driving big things”.

The perception of being a professional driver isn't greeted with as much enthusiasm as a lot of other career paths, even skilled trades.

Chris Harris, “Top Dawg” and founder of Safety Dawg, a consulting firm dedicated to improving company fleet safety standards, says he didn't respect his first job as a truck driver until he changed his attitude about his careeer.

That change in attitude was eventually recognized by his employer at the time, which resulted in Harris being promoted to a driver trainer, and subsequently a career in safety and compliance.

“My job is to change the truck driver behavior and leave knowledge behind in the safety and compliance offices,” said Harris.

He said there's a lot of info out there, but the challenge is getting it to employment specialists and guidance counsellors, like those on the panel.

“There's a lot of info, it's just too fragmented for these people to use,” Harris said, adding that companies need to move away from dropping off brochures and begin to embrace digital options like videos.

Alyson Truax, an Employment Ontario counselor with a lifelong link to the industry, said she doesn't just connect the unemployed to jobs but to career paths.

“I'm the guidance counselor for adults,” Truax said, adding that when she suggests the opportunity of a trucking career to those she deals with, the reactions are polarized. Particularly when it comes to millennials like her.

 “They don't have the work ethic their parents had, they don't have the work ethic their grandparents had,” said Truax, adding that it's not because millennials are particularly lazy but instead, because there's been a societal shift.

Other restrictions could keep some potential hires out of the industry, like mental health issues, drug and criminal infractions, and a commitment to their families, she added. “When you get people who are unemployed, people I deal with... when you have nothing, the last thing you have left is family.” That makes some people wary about trying to forge a career on the road.

Truax concluded by saying that trucking companies need to embrace training roles and understand that they'll have to invest into their employees to attract the quality they desire.

While some see the prospects of being a truck driver as intimidating, restricting and dangerous, Al Wilson, executive director of the Workforce Planning Board, says he's a glass half full kind of guy.

“When I look at the industry I see freedom, I see flexibility in hours, I see travel,” said Wilson, adding that he believes millennials find those attributes interesting and want to learn more. It just isn’t the only thing they want to learn.

 “The question, we always get asked is, 'What are the salary levels?” said Wilson.

 

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