Driver turnover not only keeps recruiters busy, it also creates an immense workload for personnel in safety, operations, maintenance and other departments for training new drivers on company policies and processes.
Training has unique challenges in transportation, especially during orientation with the amount of content that motor carriers try to cover in a short time period. Orientation typically lasts four days or less to train drivers with different skill levels, knowledge and experience.
Research by Stay Metrics, a provider of driver survey products for motor carriers, found that nearly 25% of drivers say they are not learning what they expected from carriers during orientation. Most of this frustration is centered on the accuracy of the carriers’ pay and settlement information communicated to them.
A number of fleets have been finding success with technology that individualizes the learning experience for drivers. Technology helps identify specific knowledge gaps and training needs of drivers, as well as provide media that caters to individual learning preferences.
Technology also can give fleet managers accurate and timely assessments of driver risk and, through integration, push training content to drivers, on demand, in their mobile work environment.
Catering to drivers
Week after week, motor carriers use the same content for driver orientation training, but that doesn’t mean that drivers have to get through it at the same pace.
“If somebody already knows the content, the question we ask in adult learning theory is ‘Do you have to be forced to go through it?’ The answer is no,” said Gina Anderson, Ed.D., chief executive for Luma Brighter Learning, an instructional design and learning company.
Dr. Anderson said driver training is most effective by first assessing knowledge and then delivering content in short bursts using media that covers all learning modalities — text, images, audio, simulations and video. Giving drivers the option to consume media in their native languages also is important.
“Giving the adult learner a variety of mediums is the best way for learning,” she said.
Mark Murrell, president for online training provider CarriersEdge, said that in addition to using technology to curate the learning experience for drivers, drivers should know from the start why they should care about any particular training topic.
Knowing the “why” is the necessary first step for learners to commit information to memory and change behaviors, Murrell said.
Going online with orientation
A growing number of fleets are using technology to engage drivers in orientation training before they arrive to their offices to complete the classroom portion. With online learning management systems and training content, some training can be moved outside the classroom to allow drivers to learn at their own pace.
Certified Freight Logistics (CFL) brings new drivers to its office for three days of orientation training. Prior to March 2019, its training experience was not enjoyable for drivers who had to watch outdated videos and sit through instructor-led PowerPoint presentations with printed handouts. The training also was inefficient for office staff.
With headquarters in Santa Maria, Calif., CFL operates a temperature-controlled fleet with more than 135 tractors that deliver fresh foods to customers in the western United States.
In March 2019, Tracey Smith, driver recruiting manager for CFL, discovered Luma’s Drive First online learning management system and training collection.
The collection has more than 350 individual learning modules called Luma eNuggets that cover relevant safety, compliance, orientation and health and wellness topics. The average maximum time it takes for drivers to complete an eNugget module is 9.43 minutes.
“What stood out to me was how interactive the training content is,” Smith said. “Drivers can begin by testing their knowledge with assessment questions and then use a variety of media options to individualize their learning experience. The training also keeps drivers engaged with a game-like environment.”
CFL assigns training to new drivers before they arrive at the office. Drivers complete modules using their mobile devices when traveling by bus or train. They also login to Drive First from their hotel rooms during their off hours.
The company is able to spread out content so that drivers aren’t overwhelmed, Smith said. By moving some training outside the classroom, instructors are focusing on the most important topics in person to “make certain that drivers understand how we operate,” he said.
Since implementing Drive First, Smith has noticed that drivers are coming to class better prepared and retaining more information.
CFL has compressed its orientation period by one-half day (from three to 2.5 days), and feedback from drivers has been all positive.
Focusing on the individual
Boyle Transportation uses a methodical hiring and training approach that focuses on the learning needs of the individual driver.
In 2017 the Billerica, Mass.-based company received the grand prize in the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) Fleet Safety Awards. In 2019, it was named a finalist in TCA’s Best Fleets to Drive For program for the fifth consecutive year.
Boyle specializes in high-value and high-security freight markets with customers in defense, life sciences and radioactive materials industries.
“We try to hire the best of the best,” said Michael Lasko, manager of safety and quality for Boyle. All driver hires, regardless of previous work experience, go through a comprehensive five-day orientation training program. “We really invest in the people we’ve hired,” he said. “Our focus is making sure drivers are equipped with all the tools they need to succeed.”
As part of orientation training, drivers complete online courses assigned to them from Boyle’s learning management system from CarriersEdge. However, drivers are not assigned courses before they arrive for orientation. “We never ask anyone to do something they are not being compensated for,” Lasko said.
During orientation training, drivers get hands-on instructions for specialized equipment, regulations, hours of service and fatigue management, company policies and defensive driving using the Smith System.
After orientation, drivers are paired with mentors who are tenured drivers they can contact any time they need help with policies or procedures. Drivers are provided a reference manual of company policies and customer-specific instructions. The manual also has an online version that drivers access through Boyle’s proprietary company app.
For ongoing driver training, Boyle identifies specific needs based on the feedback of driver mentors, from fleet personnel in operations and safety and from a video-based safety system.
The training assigned to each driver could be hands-on from CarriersEdge or simply a conversation. “It’s all about equipping drivers with the tools and skills they need to succeed,” Lasko said. “Everybody has different learning styles. We take that into consideration. Some respond well to online training, some not so much.”
Every quarter, Boyle assigns CarriersEdge training courses to all drivers. Topics are chosen to align with company or industry trends as well as changes to regulations.
Drivers have incentives to stay current with the training. A quarterly training bonus and a yearend bonus both are tied to completing training. The yearend bonus also is tied to other safety and performance metrics.
“We incentivize our drivers to be safe and professional and deliver world-class customer service,” Lasko said.
A proactive approach
Motor carriers that use advanced safety technology, particularly video-based telematics systems, have to manage a constant flow of information to address risky driving behaviors proactively.
Smith Transport (CCJ Top 250, No. 123) is rolling out the SmartDrive System across its 900-truck fleet. With the new system, trainers have a dashboard that “really tells the story” about drivers and critical safety events to manage accident risk proactively, said Eric Nelson, vice president of safety and recruiting for the Roaring Spring, Pa.-based company.
The SmartDrive system calculates safety scores that represent the observed rate of risk for every driver based on numerous behaviors such as speeding, following distance and aggressive maneuvers. The scores are normalized by hours and miles driven. The higher the scores, the higher the collision risk.
“What we are trying to do is coach the driver, mitigate risk and change behaviors before it becomes a collision and a terminating offense,” Nelson said.
Rich Buchanan, lead driver trainer for Smith Transport, uses the SmartDrive web portal to review events in his coaching queue. For each event, the SmartDrive dashboard gives a synopsis of what skills the driver should improve to lower accident risk.
Buchanan coaches drivers over the phone or in person depending on the severity of the event, and when drivers make improvements and take actions to prevent accidents, he makes sure to praise them. “You do not just talk to those who did bad,” he said. “It is not just used as a disciplinary tool.”
To contact a driver for a coaching session, Buchanan accesses the fleet’s AS400-based dispatch system to view the driver’s location and other job status information to “be mindful of guys while they are on a 10-hour break.”
Buchanan catches most drivers for coaching sessions when they start their workdays, typically between 7 and 8 a.m. “That’s when I like to call and say, ‘I’ve got to talk to you for a second.’ ”
With many fleets now using technologies that identify risky behaviors and patterns of drivers, the next step could be to assign computerized training to drivers automatically based on the areas they need to improve.
Instructional Technologies Inc., which offers Pro-Tread training courses, has integrated its Sentix learning management system with Idelic’s safety and predictive risk management system.
Idelic customers who use its Safety Suite can assign courses automatically from ITI based on Safety Suite’s data-driven risk analysis. Hayden Cardiff, chief executive for Idelic, said the integration with Sentix covers the lifecycle of driver risk management, from understanding the risk to identifying training needs and deploying the content that improves behavior directly.
With technology, driver training has become more efficient, and fleet managers have the information they need to focus their time and resources to address needs in safety and performance proactively.