The Coming Shortage Of Dispatchers
We hear a lot about the looming shortage of qualified truck drivers, and the tactics we can use to recruit and retain skilled drivers. At the same time, nobody seems to be talking about another staffing shortage in our industry: the lack of qualified and experienced dispatchers.
The Voice On The Phone
In the past, dispatchers were typically former drivers who had retired from the road for a “desk job.” With years of driving experience, they understood exactly what to do and what to say when a driver or a customer called in. They were able to help drivers stay awake when they needed it, and to talk them through difficult situations. That’s not always the case anymore. These experienced dispatchers are burning out, retiring, and being replaced by a new breed.
Today’s dispatchers are often college graduates with great technical skills but little or no experience in trucking. Many have never driven anything bigger than a minivan, let alone an 18 wheeler, but they are being tasked with supervising the people who get behind the wheel every day. They haven’t experienced the long periods away from home in a cab smaller than a refrigerator box, with little to no support. They’ve never driven through severe weather conditions and road hazards just to get their job done.
On-Call Driver Support
When a driver calls in to Dispatch, what kind of reception does he or she get? Is it a calm, friendly voice ready to help? Or an officious, by-the-book autonomic response that lets a driver know just where he or she stands in the company? Is there someone answering that call who just doesn’t have the time, or is it someone who can empathize with the problems that are causing the load to be late?
It makes a big difference.
When a driver gets rough treatment from a dispatcher, it’s bad enough when it’s a one time occurrence. Add hundreds of miles, repeated disinterest and a lot of time alone, and the driver feels like he or she just isn’t welcome anymore. Dispatchers create a big disconnect when they don’t respect drivers, eventually pushing away good ones and adding to the churn.
The Dispatcher’s Defense
On any given day, a dispatcher has to balance calls from drivers, customers, management, and others in the company to make everything and everyone run smoothly. One call from a driver in trouble or a customer declining a load can throw everything out the window quickly, forcing the dispatcher to scramble and make new arrangements.
But a dispatcher is in an office, behind a desk, and can interact with coworkers. A driver has to handle bad weather, adverse road conditions and an irate customer all on his or her own. The last thing a driver needs is to hear something else from a dispatcher that makes the day a little worse – dispatch needs to be a friend to the driver, and that needs to be understood as part of the job.
Drivers and dispatchers can either be in sync, or in opposition. That relationship makes a huge difference in driver retention. If new dispatchers aren’t equipped with the right knowledge and skills to work with drivers, your company may find itself churning through both. Good communication skills, and an understanding of the challenges of life on the road, are very important given that your dispatchers may be the only ones your drivers talks to at the company at any given time.
This is also true of other driver-facing personnel, whether they be in pay, payroll, management, sales, or elsewhere. If a driver doesn’t feel like he or she is respected, appreciated, or is an integral part of the organization, they’ll leave for another company.
The Solution—Dispatcher Training
There is no shortage of people who may have the technical qualifications on paper to be a good dispatcher. But training a new generation of dispatchers with the skillsets they need to be truly successful in working with your drivers will go a long way toward keeping skilled dispatchers on the desk and skilled drivers on the road.
Dispatchers certainly need technological, managerial, and scheduling skills, but without the knowledge or experience to empathize with drivers, they will be seen as back-office “pencil pushers” and won’t be able to effectively manage operations. Great dispatchers can be one of your company’s greatest assets as long as they have the trust of the people who need them most – your drivers.