Raquel Rivas, a dispatching supervisor with Vulcan Materials Company, sits down with us this week to talk about what changes technology has brought to the dispatch office.
Friend or foe?: Technology in the dispatch office
with Raquel Rivas
Raquel's 20 years of experience in the industry means that she has seen the evolution from pen and paper, to excel spreadsheets, and now knows what it is like to work with digital, cloud-based technology in the dispatch office.
In today's episode, we discuss how these changes have impacted her work life, her team, and where she sees the industry going next.
Tune in, or read below, to find out how technology plays a growing role in the life of a dispatcher (episode transcript edited for length and clarity).
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Vulcan?
Raquel: I am the logistics supervisor for the Phoenix area for Vulcan Materials. I oversee all the scheduling and the trucking for the Phoenix, Arizona market.
How long have you been in the construction industry?
Raquel: I was a senior in high school, when I started in this industry. I hadn’t even graduated yet. I’ve been working in the trucking and construction industry for about 20 years now. My first role in this industry wasn’t at this company, but it was in the construction industry. My father was in the business, as well as a lot of family members, so I got a great job recommendation from them, and I was hired! I started as a scale clerk and as a dispatcher back then.
What was the professional progression like for you to move from the scale house over to dispatching and logistics? How did that happen?
Raquel: I was in the scale house when I started. It was only for a couple of years, and then I moved into another department, which was the billing side of the trucking industry. It was completely different to be working at a corporate office. Working from that office was going well for me, it was just a very different environment.
I was at that company for four years before I had the opportunity to come work for Vulcan. I was a POA [plant office administrator] for 10 years. So I went back to working from the plant as a POA, then after 10 years, I decided that it was time to change and I wanted to do something more customer service oriented.
I stayed with Vulcan and was hired for an inside sales role. In that sales role, I was starting to communicate with customers a lot more, but a lot of my work still came from the dispatch team. I had to put a lot of orders in for them, and it was at a time that they were changing our roles a bit.
The idea was to get me more experience as a sales rep in the trucking industry, then to support dispatch. It was a lot of work -- a large role, so I gave a bit of push back to be doing both. After that, I was put in the dispatch office and it was decided that I was going to stay there permanently.
I was in a dispatch setting -- and to start, there was some chaos. The group already in the dispatch office wanted to see some change happen on the team. I became a lead dispatcher, and shortly after I was given the opportunity to go back into inside sales or to stay on the dispatch team and become a supervisor. I decided to go with the supervisor role. That role was definitely one of the hardest things I've done -- managing people is tough.
I was always doing things and working hard to get the job done, and do a good job. I had a lot of responsibility and I had to explain when anything went wrong -- but it was something that I found I had a calling for -- a passion. I had a passion for people at that point. I saw that I could definitely make a difference with some employees and that I could coach them through the job.
Since you first started in dispatch, how have things changed with the team, and with the technology tools that you leverage to get the job done or communicate better?
Raquel: Many of the things have changed back from when I started 20 years ago. When I started, at that point, everything was manual. When orders came into central dispatch, they were put into an Excel spreadsheet or just a piece of paper. Order forms were faxed to the plant, and that's how dispatchers knew what job they were going to be ticketing.
Overall, we were still writing everything down on a piece of paper, typing it in an Excel spreadsheet, faxing it, or putting it on a computer drive folder for the plant operators or the plant field to print out orders.
I was really shocked, even six or seven years ago, that technology still had not come to dispatch yet. When I had gone back into dispatch, we had just recently started working with another company -- taking over their hotlines and then some ready-mix times that we had in another state. That company used the same program -- Apex. They were using Apex to schedule. Anytime a customer called in to place the orders, they were putting it in a system so that all the hotspot operators, all the managers, whoever had access to the dispatch center, could view those orders.
We decided to put that into effect for our team as well. We only had about five plants at the time, and we were acquiring about five more, so it was a time for change.
There was a lot of pushback because people don't like change. People can be afraid of technology -- I was one of them. It can kind of make you uncomfortable. You don't know what type of change is coming, so I think that definitely is what made a lot of people in the group uncomfortable. I was there more to help them move forward. I tried to coach them through the adaptation of technology in the dispatch office. It took a lot. There was a lot of pushback because there were still a lot of orders in from other areas.
We had about 10 different plants and with all the orders that were coming in, it was roughly anywhere from 60 to 100 pages worth of orders. Orders were scattered on desks. And that’s how they dispatched back then. There were a lot of things that took place to streamline everything. We got rid of that desk, and we had to lock the file folders on the drive. It took a big change. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, and it was certainly a leap of faith. But we had incorporated technology into the dispatch office.
For the people that were nervous about incorporating technology into daily dispatching operations, did their positions change? Do they feel more comfortable?
Raquel: We still have some people that use paper. It’s one of those things that makes people uncomfortable not to. I'm training someone today, and I took them out to a few of our plants yesterday and some operators are using pen and paper to write down truck IDs and the job that they're associated with. It shocked me that they still do that. The person said: I'm a pen and paper kind of person. I said, well, let's give technology a try first. And then maybe you can use the pen and paper later if it’s still not working for you. Trying to persuade dispatch employees, and show them the advantages of technology is important.
Sometimes people get frustrated, and yes, technology does have hiccups here and there. So if at one point technology fails on them, they go back to their old ways. This individual that I've been training, it's only been a few hours that I've been training them, but I've been showing them how they can put everything properly in the system for each truck. It automatically populates for different fields. You don't have to write anything down, so yes, it works. When it's chaotic and you have to keep going really fast, writing things down, it's not going to make your job easier. Sometimes it even makes it a little bit more complicated.
If you use technology in the trucking industry to the fullest, you'll go a lot faster and things will go a lot smoother. You'll also be a lot less stressed.
When you think about technology, that ongoing training element is not always there.
That's one thing that could certainly be beneficial for the industry going forward -- building that culture around ongoing training in every facet of the job, not just certain areas on the job site.
Raquel: We have to continuously refresh the team and let them know what can be done with technology and the programs we use. Again, technology can have bugs. People get frustrated and they just go back to their old ways. But I think if people address those issues, and start to ask why it's not working, and how do we improve? That can make things better. If [employees] are communicating with their managers or supervisors, or the support teams that software companies have, I think it, things can get fixed and people can address those issues.
People can definitely move forward knowing they have that support, and they can then see the advantages of using technology. One of the guys in our group that pushed back the hardest, he definitely is one of the ones that now uses technology to the fullest. Part of that is because he asked the questions. He probably was one of those people that was most involved in saying “how do I do this?” Or, “how am I going to be able to do that?” Once he actually got the education about how it could help him now, he's one of the people that's using it the most. We’ve got some people that are really on board with it.
In 10 years, what do you think the trucking dispatch office will look like?
Raquel: We've come such a long way from where we were 20 years ago. In the last couple of years we have gone through so much. I always tell my group, you should not have to do a lot of data entry. You should be able to monitor all the jobs, and make sure that they progress. You should be able to talk to the customer, communicating with them about job status. Instead of having to do things that are manual.
In 10 years, I’d like to say that there'll be cruise control for dispatching, just managing and making sure everything is running properly. I guess we'll wait and see.
Since you first started in the industry, have more women come into the industry and into the role of dispatcher?
Raquel: As far as the dispatch position, I've always seen men and women equally fill the role. I think it's still the same way. As far as management roles, there are still a lot more men. It's always been a male dominated industry, but I will tell you that at our company, we now have one VP, that's female, and just a couple of months ago we had two VPs that were female. I've never seen that ever in the industry. I think we're definitely moving in the right direction. I think the company and the industry are trying to make changes. There is room to grow in that area.
When you think about hiring a great dispatcher, what are the qualities that you're looking for in someone?
Raquel: I'm always looking for someone who is customer service oriented. I’m not necessarily looking for someone who's been in the industry, just someone who is customer service oriented, who is patient, can multi-task, is analytical, and can be a team player.
For people that are interested in getting started in the industry, what would you suggest is the best way to break into a trucking dispatch career?
Raquel: Dispatch is a good entry to the trucking industry in general. I've seen people view dispatch as a low-level position. They think “I'm starting from the bottom.” And I would say that there’s actually a lot of growth within a dispatch team.
I never would have told you I was going to end up back in the dispatch office, but I love it. I interact so much with the operations team, with quality control, with sales, and with the customer. I personally have always liked this role versus sales roles. It takes a lot to fill the shoes of a salesperson. In dispatch you get a ton of exposure to a bunch of different departments and a ton of different areas of the business.
A few rapid-fire questions:
Have you had anyone in the industry that has been a mentor to you and helped you throughout your career?
Raquel: I've had some great managers that have had really great leadership skills. I tried to learn from all of them. They communicated really well. I'm not going to say that we're perfect because nobody's perfect, but I try to replicate a lot of the good qualities and just learn from their experiences and leadership. I've had the opportunity to go back to school, and I completed my bachelor's degree a year and a half ago. I'm currently getting my master's degree in leadership.
What keeps you in the construction industry?
Raquel: The challenges and the adrenaline keep me in the construction industry. Every day is something different. It may seem that you have the same customers, the same product is being sold, but actually, every day is something different. You're dealing with a different fire that you're having to put out. It’s a different challenge that presents itself. That's what keeps me in attendance.
I read somewhere that to be in the construction industry, it takes a different type of personality because it is a really fast paced kind of job and not everybody can do it. It's not that they can't do it, but I don't think that everybody likes or enjoys that atmosphere or that kind of environment. I truly do.
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