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Mentorship programs that offer information to both people involved can be a valuable tool for transportation companies, according to panelists during a session of the Technology & Maintenance Council’s service provider study group.
The session was held April 22 as part of TMC’s spring meeting. A division of American Trucking Associations, TMC conducted the meeting virtually due to COVID-19.
Programs in which the mentor and mentee feel comfortable asking questions and sharing information can be especially helpful between participants of varying ages, the panelists noted. Homer Hogg, vice president of truck service at TravelCenters of America Inc., pointed out the transportation workforce is diverse in terms of age, including people born before 1946 and millennials.
Tim Foley, director of performance and learning at Navistar International Corp., said reframing mentorship as a two-way relationship has helped at the company, noting this system disables the “authoritarian dynamic” that can be found in coaching.
“The mentor can learn from the mentee,” Foley said. “I think that’s helped a lot. You build rapport. That goes a long way to changing that dynamic, and then people do more of the mentoring because it’s not so intimidating.”
Evan Erdmann, fleet service manager at Clarke Power Services Inc., urged employers to identify which employees show aptitude for growth and specifically ask them what their goals are, rather than assume everyone wants to be the next leader. Clarke Power Services specializes in heavy vehicle repairs and maintenance. Erdmann graduated from TMC’s Leaders of Tomorrow program, which offers professional development opportunities for up-and-coming members of the industry.
Also at TMC 2021
J.B. Swanson, director of continuous improvement at Empire Truck Sales, stressed the importance of establishing an environment where people feel comfortable with learning and failing. Empire Truck Sales is a dealership with locations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Similarly, Erdmann said employees should be placed outside their comfort zones early and be taught that failure is part of learning and growth. He compared it to teaching someone a golf swing, noting that people will never fully comprehend the expectations until they have a club in their hands.
Anthony Marshall, vice president of maintenance and engineering for transportation at UPS Inc., recommended offering people exposure to certain roles as soon as possible as they develop their careers. UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.
“Sometimes folks need to get a swing at the bat to get a feel for how things are going to be,” said Marshall, who also graduated from the Leaders of Tomorrow program. “We have to understand that helps not only the individual, but also it helps the company as far as future talent acquisition and making sure we have the right folks in the right position.”
Just as the transportation industry faces a shortage of truck drivers, it has a dearth of technicians. There is an annual demand for about 28,000 diesel technicians, according to research from TechForce Foundation, a nonprofit organization that encourages professional technicians seeking careers.
TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell noted the importance of striking a balance between being mindful of people’s pacing needs without compromising expectations.
“We have to be open to different ways of thinking about those kinds of things,” Braswell said. “We kind of get set in our ways and think, ‘If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them.’ It sounds good in theory, but it’s not really. It is an evolving thing. You really do [have to] keep an open mind without totally giving in to the expectations. You still have to set certain standards.”
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