Sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture isn’t the most effective way to train truck drivers, said U.S. Xpress as it unveiled a new professional driver training and development program that uses technology and hands-on training.
“Truck drivers need ongoing training, development, support, and practice. That’s why we’re investing in all our drivers like never before,” explained COO Matt Herndon in an interview with HDT. The new system emphasizes hands-on learning, self-paced learning, and practice in the safety of a simulator and a driving range.
There are five primary components of the program:
1. Computer lab with self-paced learning, with more than 30 videos and 10 e-learning modules that are proprietary to U.S. Xpress. Some are safety-related, while others address other aspects of the job, such as trip planning.
2. Commercial motor vehicle lab, which trains on 215 key learning points focused on maintenance items or defects drivers may encounter. For instance, there’s a tire station where drivers learn what defects to look for and what action they should take when they spot one during a pre-trip inspection or on the road.
3. Driver success lab, which uses a lot of interactive training to teach drivers how to successfully use in-cab technology, such as electronic logging devices and navigation.
4. Simulation lab, with a state-of-the-art driver simulator using modules created to align to more than 100 driver competencies.
5. Driving range, where drivers get to practice skills, such as backing and alley dock, in a self-contained and safe environment.
The simulations use “learning transfer cues.” For instance, if a driver is working on his or her backing skills, there are cues such as lines and virtual cones that help the driver set up properly. As drivers go through the simulation multiple times and become more proficient, those cues gradually disappear until the driver is doing it without any help.
The new training has already been paying big dividends. U.S. Xpress implemented part of the new system late last summer to teach new hires backing skills.
In the past, when a new driver came through orientation and flunked the backing portion of the road test, they were disqualified, explained Amanda Thompson, senior vice president of human resources, in an interview. This would happen to both student drivers and experienced drivers. With the new enhanced backing training, instead of being shown the door, these drivers got put through simulator training and then practices on the driving range.
“We put that in place in late August 2018, and we’ve successfully passed over 150 drivers through and been able to upgrade those drivers into first-seat driving roles.” The success rate has been 91%, meaning U.S. Xpress is able to on-board otherwise qualified drivers who just needed some more help with a particular skills shortcoming.
The full training program has been running for about a month now, and more than 200 drivers have already gone through the training. Feedback has been very positive, from drivers with all levels of experience.
“One of the experienced drivers who went through the training said, ‘I didn’t even see a truck when I went through orientation at another carrier,” Herndon said.
The training system also will be used to provide drivers with ongoing development throughout their career – not only for remedial training following an accident or other incident, but also simply to allow drivers to hone their skills in a safe environment.
Currently these facilities are at U.S. Xpress’s Tunnel Hill, Georgia, facility, southeast of its Chattanooga, Tennessee, headquarters. But the company is working on expanding the program as rapidly as it can to other locations.
It took about 15 to 16 months from inception to implementation, a project that required collaboration between multiple departments – human resources, operations, safety, facilities and IT teams, etc.
“We also had a big emphasis on using the experience of our drivers,” Thompson said. Drivers reviewed and vetted materials and appear in some of the instruction videos. “We wanted the perception of the drivers to be in everything we developed.”
It’s all part of the ongoing transformation of U.S. Xpress, Herndon said. “In the last few years we’ve made significant changes in leadership and how we manage operations and the technology we use for the sake of our drivers on the highway and those who share it with us.”