Thursday, 26 February 2015

Truck Driver Training

It is of said within the trucking industry that if you put more than two truck drivers together in a room you won't get agreement on any topic. Driver training is the one exception to that rule.

"The day you wake up and believe you have nothing left to learn about truck driving is the day you need to hang up the keys"

That credo, or a version of it, is usually the first pearl of wisdom an experienced driver will share with a novice driver. Drivers will debate every other issue to death but on this they agree. No two days on the road are ever the same and you never stop learning.

So it was with great disappointment that I was not able to attend the panel discussion presented by the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) on the afternoon of Wednesday February 25, 2015. The topic up for discussion was Mandatory Training Standards and how to deal with the pressing needs of the industry. There were a good number of leaders and decision makers slated to be present along with Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

It was a missed opportunity. I received an invitation to attend on the Friday previous but was unable to make it back from my weekly Winnipeg trip in time. If I was given the opportunity to present my perspective to the group this is what I would have liked to say.

My name is Alan Goodhall. I obtained my Ontario class AZ licence in the spring of 1999 after receiving my training from a professional truck driver training institution. Through the training school I had a job lined up immediately upon graduation and successful completion of my Ministry driving test. I spent 9 months being mentored by an owner/operator with whom I ran team. I considered that my apprenticeship into the industry. That initial experience provided the foundation for a successful and fulfilling career over the past 16 years and it's far from over.

In 2003 I joined J&R Hall Transportation and never looked back. I had found my niche within the industry with an LTL carrier that specialized in western Canadian freight and presented all the challenges I was keen to learn. A few years after joining J&R Hall I had the opportunity to start sharing my experience with newly minted AZ drivers fresh out of training school. It was my opportunity to give back and I seized that opportunity. I spent 3 years as a driver/trainer. I spent 3 months with each new driver and helped to build a good mentoring program. I completed a Certified Driver Trainer course during that period also. It was after completion of that course that I came to the conclusion I could not do it alone. I was well supported by my employer and was giving deep training and mentoring to our new drivers but I was left feeling that it just wasn't enough. The more time I spent as a trainer the more I recognized the need for a standard training program that covered all the bases in depth, measured progress, and provided follow up training. After 3 years I was burned out and needed some time away from the intensity of this type of program. I have yet to pick up the reigns again as a driver/trainer.

Entry level training institutions working in partnership with carriers have been the backbone to training, recruitment, and retention of new drivers since I joined the industry but it's well past time to step things up. The talk on the front lines among experienced drivers is about the lack of quality mentoring. This is being reflected in the habits and attitudes of drivers on the road. This isn't about what accident statistics, telematics, and big data is telling us about the state of the industry. It's about the lived experience. It's about the drivers quality of life. It's about the need for innovation in training to match the booming innovation in technology. It's about coping with the stress brought on by demand for drivers to do more with less. It's about the decline in driver morale. It's about respect and recognition.

Driver training is a partnership between training institutions, carriers, trade organizations, government, and existing drivers. Experienced drivers are often left out of the loop of the training process. But is this not where the greatest potential lies for bringing new blood into the industry? It is my contention that we need to make a much greater effort to tap into the experience of the existing driver pool. How can we implement industry standards for drivers without a pool of skilled driver trainers to deliver and maintain those standards.

I believe it's time for a graduated form of training for the trucking industry. That program needs to be universal and available to all carriers whether they have 1 or 2 trucks or a thousand. I know little about apprenticeship programs and how they are administered but I often think of my brother in laws experience in BC when he entered into the field of Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning. He apprenticed with a 1 man operation. He was paid a graduated income as he learned and his employer was subsidized. There was partnership between the new employee, the training institution, the employer, the trade association, and government regulator. All working together around a standard program of training. I recognize we may face many roadblocks but this is the type of program we need to work towards.

My vision is that in that first year after graduating from a professional training institution the new driver would spend a set number of hours in the cab with a qualified trainer, a set number of hours in the classroom further complementing the in cab training, and a set number of hours in other areas of the trucking operation such as warehousing, loading, and equipment maintenance. (shop) We can have an entry level standard and a level playing field that every carrier of every size could participate in if they wished to.

Professional training institutions can expand their role by developing programs that go beyond the entry level standard and offer specialized training in partnership with carriers. After completing a standard 1 year entry level course drivers may then want to develop new skills in a different sector of the industry and be able to receive accreditation for it. Training such as heavy haul, car hauling, B-trains, LCV's, etc. The sky is the limit in this regard. Let's also not forget about training the trainer and providing re-training on new equipment as technology changes the workplace around us and places new demands on us.

Front line drivers are frustrated at this point in time. So many drivers are saying things such as, "It's not any fun out here anymore" or "It's just a job now". Morale is low. Revitalizing our training process and re-engaging our existing drivers in the day to day activities of trucking is vital to attracting new blood and building for the future in my humble opinion.

So that is what I would say. It's only enough to open up the conversation to a host of issues we face as drivers but I strongly believe we have to work in partnership with our carriers, with enforcement (government), with training institutions, and with industry institutions of every stripe.

Let's get involved drivers. What do you think?

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