Being blunt about the industry’s recruitment challenge

Bill Headshot
Updated Jan 29, 2021

The first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one. Heavy-duty truck parts and service providers have a drug problem.

The industry faces myriad challenges to recruiting and retaining employees, many of which have been covered in Trucks, Parts, Service in great detail. Cost of tuition and tools, poaching by the competition, industry image, lack of guidance and resources in schools — the list goes on.

Further compounding the problem is the growing number of states legalizing the use of recreational and medicinal marijuana. If this were a football game, the ref would throw a flag for piling on.

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Currently, marijuana is legal for recreational use in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The entire country of Canada legalized recreational marijuana in 2018.

“It’s a huge problem; 100 percent it’s another big obstacle. We preach 24/7 you will be drug tested on Day One [at the workplace],” said Timothy Spurlock, president and founder, American Diesel Training Centers, during the Q&A portion of a session, “Tackling the Talent War: Recruiting Good People,” at Service Opportunities Learning Days (SOLD) during Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week last month.

Case in point, aftermarket distributor Six Robblees’ is one of likely many companies that has been affected by the legalization of pot as job candidates balk at the company’s no-tolerance drug policy.

“We’ll get 30 applicants for a job and not one will come back after we tell them they have to take a drug test,” said President Andy Robblee in TPS’ State of the Industry series. “In Washington State, marijuana is legal but we don’t accept it at our company. We’re struggling with that dynamic right now and it’s making it more of a challenge when hiring employees.”

CEO Mike Betts said Fresno, Calif.-based Betts Company conducts employee drug testing, “and I believe a great majority of the companies drug test and they’re going to continue to.

“People need to know if they’re going to be working on vehicles, lives are at stake [including the technician’s]; they need to be clean,” Betts said during the SOLD session. “Our instructors at the high school programs are adamant about that with the students.”

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A service and parts supplier in southwestern Calgary, Alberta, has a zero-tolerance drug policy and emphasizes safety to its employees in the shop — and the strategy is working, says a general manager.

Safety is the company’s No. 1 priority and it tells employees, “We can’t tell you what you can and can’t do when you’re not at work, but here’s the deal: We want a safe work environment. We want to make sure everyone can go home to their families and if you’re under the influence, that’s when people get hurt. Maybe you get hurt, maybe it’s the guy next to you, maybe it’s a customer.”

In addition to the zero-tolerance policy, employees have to sign a form stating they will not be at work while on mind-altering substances. Signing ones name promising not to come to work high is one thing, but these employees aren’t looking at staying clean as something they have to do to keep their jobs, but something they want to do for the sake of safety.

The general manager says much of the company’s workforce is between 25 and 35 years old. “We have a lot of them who have young families or are just starting families.”

He adds the younger generation cares about engagement with the employer, the environment and social responsibility. “But what these guys care about more than all of that is safety.”

Hopefully the situation at this business is not the exception and, as these younger employees enter the job force, they hold safety and gainful employment in a rewarding industry in higher regard than getting high.

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