What’s the number one issue I hear from fleets when I ask them about their top concerns? It’s not ELDs or hours of service. It’s not even the high cost of maintenance, especially emissions, although that’s a close second.
No, it’s drivers. Even though turnover is (relatively) low at the moment, according to the American Trucking Associations, fleets want to know how to help attract and retain drivers.
One frequent topic of discussion is how to make truck driving a more attractive profession, desirable as a career rather than a job of last resort.
A key factor of this could be ongoing training. It’s an important element of advancement in most professions. Yet all too often in our industry, truckers view training as punishment, according to Mark Murrell and Jane Jazrawy, the husband-and-wife owners and operators of CarriersEdge, which provides learning and development for the trucking industry (although you may be more aware of them, as I was, as the folks behind the Truckload Carriers Association’s Best Fleets to Drive For program.)
The problem is that traditionally, truck drivers "only got trained if they did something wrong," Murrell told the Society for Human Resource Management for a recent article. "Getting people to see that training is about bettering yourself is a really big change-management issue" for this industry.
Obviously the nature of the driver’s job makes training a bit of a logistical nightmare. It’s a headache for fleets to get drivers in for classroom training or in person meetings, so they may do it only when they absolutely have to — which means outside of orientation, it’s often only remedial training. Thus the feeling for drivers that the only reason for training is when they’ve done something wrong.
Enter online training.
“In general, trucking is very slow to the game in this area,” Murrell explained in an email. “Online training, commonly known as eLearning (E-Learning, etc.) in the broader corporate world, has been commonplace since the dot-com boom in the late 90s. In white collar industries, it's pretty much a standard part of training delivery in every organization."
Murrell and Jazrawy came to the trucking industry in 2005 with experience in creating these kinds of training programs for companies such as Home Depot and Ford, and they saw a huge opportunity.
“People looked at us like we were crazy,” Murrell explained. “People claimed that drivers couldn't use computers, that online training wouldn't work, and a variety of other silly things. Now, 10+ years later, trucking has accepted that Internet-based training can work, while the rest of the eLearning industry has moved to game-based learning, immersive 3D or augmented reality programs, and experiments with VR.”
Yet only a small percentage of fleets are taking advantage of online training, he says. CarriersEdge has put together statistics that indicate only about 10% of fleets use online training for drivers. Compare that to the 85% of TCA’s Best Fleets to Drive For that do.
Murrell contends that trucking, in general, is willing to spend a lot less on training than other industries. “Fleets will spend a lot on hardware that claims to improve safety, but they're reluctant to invest in building their people. Compare trucking with manufacturing, mining, construction, and other blue collar industries and you can see a huge gap in training investment.”
And a lot of the online training that is done, Murrell says, is nothing more than passive videos. Interactive training that tests how well the recipient is absorbing the material is more effective.
CarriersEdge offers online modules that drivers can access any time, any place, even if that happens to be late at night on a layover hundreds of miles from the central terminal.
“The challenge is the nature of the trucking industry; it’s nearly impossible to get everybody together for classroom training,” Murrell says. “To have everybody show up on Monday morning at 9 a.m. in a classroom means a huge amount of disruption for the business. It’s much better if those people can do the training on their own schedule -- when it’s convenient for them. With remote training, we’ve set it up so the home office can monitor all the training activity.”
CarriersEdge has built a library of more than 70 full-length and refresher/remedial courses, covering topics from the safe securing of cargo to hours-of-service rules and logbooks to defensive and winter driving.
I spoke with Jazrawy earlier this summer when writing about fuel economy and idle reduction.
“What we found is people have to be treated like professionals,” she told me. “Then have to be given lessons about ‘What’s in it for me.’ The Best Fleets to Drive For do that — they bring the drivers along for the ride.
“You don’t just throw training at someone in isolation. You have to provide that training in a bigger context.”'
For instance, she said, CarriersEdge training on fuel efficiency and idle reduction teaches drivers why they are doing it, how to do it well, and how it’s done badly. Training will show a comparison of two drivers, one who is succeeding and one who is not, and give drivers tips on how they can be more effective.
“We find it’s not all about just training people and saying ‘You must do this and this, but having a constant conversation with people in order to change their behavior and encourage them to keep it changed.”
CarriersEdge also has surveys available, a mobile app, and the ability to add customized fleet-specific content. Fleets from five trucks up to thousands can use this system.
CarriersEdge isn’t the only company offering remote, on-demand training; Instructional Technologies’ ProTread has been doing it for years. A newer entrant to the market is Compli, which offers online training as part of a larger compliance program.
Whichever company you may choose, if you're looking for ways to build a safer, more engaged, more productive, more satisfied professional driver workforce, a good look at your training efforts is likely in order.