Having worked on tractors and loaders since the age of 14, Fred Nicoll feels comfortable operating big machinery.
A proud Montreal native, Nicoll has been a commercial truck driver for over 27 years, and has been working for Argus Transport for three. He is also the driving instructor for drivers who have recently obtained their truck driving license, and knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful in the industry.
- What do you think attracts people to truck driving?
I think it’s probably the money and the sense of autonomy. You’re on your own when you’re driving and no one is over your shoulder telling you what to do. You work long hours, but you typically get paid hourly, so your salary at the end of the year is great – people want the chance to have that well-paid job.
- Is that why you got into the field?
I always loved big machines and driving big vehicles; trucking just comes naturally. The money’s great but it’s probably the freedom that I love the most. I’m someone that likes peace and quiet, which is why office environments where everyone’s yelling on the phone don’t appeal to me.
- What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Definitely the hours. Sometimes you think you’ll be with a customer for 30 minutes, but it turns into hours and you get home at 7pm instead of 4pm. There are many days that I’m up at 4:30am, and only get home late in the evening, but that’s just what you sign up for with this job. My family and I have gotten used to it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish I had more time to spend with them.
- Are most of the new recruits that you train aware of this commitment?
Yes, of course. They all know this isn’t a job for everyone.
- Do you ever train someone that isn’t cut out for truck driving?
Yeah, it happens. It’s not that they can’t handle the hours, it’s that they aren’t committed enough to our safety standards. They end up rushing, even just to save five minutes and that’s when accidents happen. Of course, accidents can even happen with experienced drivers, but you can tell right away when someone isn’t as focused and willing to follow the rules to a tee.
- It sounds like there are a lot of technical maneuvers that take considerable effort to master.
You’re right about that – it’s not that easy to drive a truck! Contrary to what a lot of people might think, this isn’t a job just anyone can do. That’s why I said that there are trainees that just don’t make the cut because they aren’t careful enough. There’s a small margin of error, you can turn too sharply and hit something. Backing up is also tricky and takes a lot of patience and focus. I tell people all the time: do not try to save time, do not rush – the only option is to do it with accuracy. Driving sloppy or speeding can mean hitting a car. It can also mean getting into a serious accident that takes a life; it’s never worth it.
- Can anyone learn these skills like backing up, or is it really that difficult?
Skills can be learned, but an attitude is hard to change. Some people have the wrong attitude and they just don’t take safety seriously enough. They’re overly confident. Experience and skills are important but you know what, I think good values and the right attitude help people become successful in the long run. Actually, everyone that I work with at Argus seems to have a really helpful personality and that’s why the company runs smoothly the way it does. They hire good people who follow the rules and help each other out.
- What does ‘helping out’ mean for a transport company?
For example, a lot of drivers here offload their own trailers in the warehouse because they know how to do more than just one thing. A lot of drivers want to learn new skills so they can just do more. If something happens, there’s always someone who is willing to jump in and lend a hand. If someone’s sick, there’s always someone to take over. Overall, you could say that the people here are really reliable.
- Do you notice a big difference from one trucking company to another?
Oh yes. I worked for one company that had a really tight-knit family feel, but they had to close. I’ve worked for others where I was lied to and totally undervalued and they went under due to bad management. Everything starts at the top. You could have the best drivers in the world but if management isn’t transparent and doesn’t value employees, it’s not going to be a very successful company. At Argus, what they say is what they do.
- What do you want young drivers to know about a career in trucking?
I just say if you can handle the schedule, and if you’re able to learn to drive with extremely high safety standards, and you respect those standards, then you can do really well. You can earn a fantastic living and have the feeling that you’re your own boss. It’s just you and this truck out there on the road, listening to whatever you want and watching the sunrise over fields. It’s a good job for a lot of people.