Innovators: The driving force

Ace Transportation & Dynasty Transportation
Lafayette, La.

Spearheaded consortium of trucking companies to obtain state funding for a driver training simulator they believe will improve safety and retention.

In September 2000, Louisiana trucking executive Bob Lagneaux was nominated for the state’s Workforce Investment Board (WIB), which helps individuals and companies access information and services to increase employment.

At one of his first WIB meetings, Lagneaux learned of the Incumbent Worker Training Program from the Louisiana Department of Labor, a grant program that helps businesses train their current workers with assistance from local colleges and other training providers.

Lagneaux is chief financial officer and vice president of administration for Lafayette-based affiliated carriers Ace Transportation and Dynasty Transportation, as well as Total Transportation Services, which serves as an administrative services company for the two carriers. Together, Ace and Dynasty operate about 1,900 trucks with more than 90 terminals, primarily in Louisiana and Texas.

Immediately after returning to his office from the WIB meeting, Lagneaux called Richard Yandle, risk manager for Total Transportation Services. Lagneaux wanted to obtain an incumbent worker grant to provide the company’s drivers, who are all owner-operators, with advanced simulation training. “We felt that the truck driving simulator was the only way to provide drivers with real-life types of situations to teach them the accident avoidance techniques they needed,” Yandle says.

To apply for the grant, Yandle contacted officials at the state Department of Labor and the Louisiana Technical College (LTC) in Lafayette, a school that offers commercial driver training.

About a year later, the state DOL rejected a grant for $270,000 to buy a fixed-site simulation unit at the college and to pay for training expenses. The concept was fine, but the cost of training on a per-student basis was too high, Yandle was told. State DOL said the program could win the grant if it had more participants. The program allows businesses to form consortiums with other local companies to increase the number of trainees.

“Initially we were kind of selfish. We were looking to use the grant only for Ace and Dynasty,” Yandle says. “After we got rejected the first go-round, we lost a little hope, but then we said ‘we need to find another way to try and get this accomplished.'”

To build a consortium, Yandle made calls and wrote letters to local, noncompetitive trucking companies to invite them to meetings at the college. Throughout 2002, Yandle helped arrange quarterly gatherings at the school, with representatives from the college and the state DOL on hand to encourage attendees to apply.

“We had people attend the meetings, but when it got down to making a commitment and getting involved, that was a more difficult process,” Yandle says. To join the consortium, attendees had to complete a lengthy application and commit to train a certain number of their drivers. But “a lot of companies that had not been involved in a grant before didn’t like the paperwork and bureaucracy.”

One fleet eager to join the consortium was Dupre Transport, a 360-truck van and liquid bulk hauler based in Lafayette. Throughout 2002, Dupre Transport was ineligible to participate, however, because it already was in the midst of completing its own two-year incumbent worker grant to train office workers with computer skills.

“(The consortium) looked good,” says Al LaCombe, Dupre Transport’s director of safety. “We wanted to be an early adopter of this state-of-the-art equipment. It uses the same technology and process used to train commercial pilots.”

Dupre Transport came aboard when it was eligible and committed to train 360 drivers. Another smaller carrier – Crowley, La.-based John N. John Tank Lines – also joined the consortium and planned to train all 30 of its drivers.

To train their drivers, the consortium decided that one fixed-site simulator would not suffice, Yandle says. The consortium therefore applied for a $1.5 million grant to fund four mobile simulators along with a tractor and trailer. By 2003, the consortium still was lacking in numbers, however. It had approximately 590 drivers eligible for training, but it needed 700 to obtain the $1.5 million grant. Although Ace and Dynasty had hundreds of drivers in Louisiana, it had limited its number of drivers to be trained to 200 – at least initially.

“With the grant, the one thing we are focusing on is the retention of drivers,” Yandle says. “Because of that, we are looking at drivers we felt needed some additional driver training to be able to retain those folks.”

By late 2003, the project’s participants almost gave up hope. “To get $1.5 million, we had to train a lot of people,” says Debbie Burkheiser, Louisiana Technical College’s dean of workforce development. “To get trucking companies to understand that this is a good thing was the only way we could overcome the challenge.”

In February 2004, driver simulator developer MPRI Ship Analytics brought a trailer equipped with mobile simulation units to the college for visits to Lafayette, Baton Rouge and other areas to jumpstart interest in the program. Those efforts finally paid off when Karie Mire – director of human resources for Milk Products LP (DBA Borden’s) – saw the simulator on a news show and contacted the college. Borden’s added 130 drivers for training, bringing the total trainees to more than 700 – enough for the grant to be approved.

In April 2005, the trucking consortium and college officially launched the training program. The simulator is based at the Louisiana Technical College in Crowley, La., and Nick Treadway is the training coordinator and driver of the simulator tractor-trailer unit. The consortium has agreed to use weekly rotations to spread the specialized simulation training equally. Simulation training is customizable for each fleet’s operations – the simulators can use the specific load dynamics and stopping distances of a heavy flatbed or liquid bulk trailer, for example. The training is designed to improve the skills of professional truck drivers in areas such as shifting techniques, fuel management, emergency maneuvers and speed and space management.

Once the two-year grant ends, the mobile simulator training will belong to the college, which will continue to offer training, but chances are it will be hard to schedule. For example, once the grant is completed, Ace and Dynasty will pay to continue using the simulators to train drivers at its terminals throughout the state, Yandle says.

Ace and Dynasty now are applying for a similar grant in Texas to use simulators. The effort likely will require building a consortium again – a formula already proven to work. “There have been a lot of setbacks, but we persevered,” Yandle says. “This is an important milestone in our safety program.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at [email protected] or (800) 633-5953.