Driver training and retention are connected

There are a zillion reasons to improve trucking’s drive-training system, if it can actually be called a “system” at all. It can’t. One of those reasons may not be obvious, but I’m convinced it’s real. That’s retention, and I think proper training is an almost surefire way to keep people at the wheel.

Make them comfortable with what they’re doing on the road and off, by ensuring that they feel confident in traffic and especially weather, and above all that they understand the truck and its various mechanical and electronic components. There’s more to a driver’s role, of course, but if he or she is unsure about those basics, nerves and stress and poor performance will follow. And that’s not conducive to job satisfaction.

truck driver training
(Photo: istock)

If we don’t prepare them well, for what is not an easy job, we just set them up to fail. Or at the very least become very unsure of themselves and then disgruntled. Not the way to start any career.

Does any school teach newbies the practical meaning of center of gravity, for instance? Some probably do, but I’ll bet that it’s a tiny minority. You sure as hell won’t see that in the cheapo schools that flourish because all they do is prepare people for a road test. But send a rookie with such minimal training on his first trip from the flatlands to Vancouver and the result could well be catastrophe, or at the very least soiled jeans. Just ask any B.C. highway cop about that scenario and you’ll get an earful.

On a much simpler level, the veterans amongst you will remember people complaining years ago about suddenly being given a truck with a Fuller 13-speed to drive when they’d been accustomed to a 10-speed or some other simpler gearbox. No instruction, no access to a manual and probably no time to read it anyway. Missed shifts and attention gaps surely followed. And the complainers weren’t always new drivers. The same holds true for the abundance of technologies that must be learned today. Training on that front, from what I hear, is scanty.

Pardon me if I’ve told this tale before but my own nephew was a victim of lousy preparation and it helped to cut his driving career short. He was a natural for the job, a skilled driver with good mechanical senses, and he paid serious money for training at a good school where he excelled. I immediately got him an interview with what I thought was a top-notch fleet and he signed on, but two weeks later – a raw rookie — he was dispatched to pull 63,500-kg B-train flatbeds from southern Ontario to the hairy hills north of Montreal. He was thrown into the deep end with nowhere near enough experience to handle it, nor any serious in-house training. To his credit, while admitting that he was scared sh**less more than once, he hit nothing, killed nobody, and ran that route nervously but successfully for another couple of months. Still, he quit trucking not long afterward and the industry lost a good one.

So much for a top-notch fleet.

No matter what you say, there is a shortage of truck drivers, especially long-haulers. You can re-state that fact as a shortage of people willing to do the job, for all manner of well understood reasons, but the end result is the same: not enough folks to put behind the wheel. A recruitment problem that seems to defy solution.

Same with retention, and one of the clear reasons is that established drivers don’t want to share the road with poorly trained rookies. More and more often, for example, I hear and read veteran drivers say they’re frightened to drive roads like Ontario’s Highway 11 or 17 in winter. Not that they can’t handle the conditions, rather that so many others can’t.

And there you have a double-edged retention issue. The new drivers aren’t trained to feel comfortable at the wheel and the old ones are just plain scared.

We simply have to get serious about training.

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.


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  • Excellent article Rolf, ongoing training is good for everyone and petty sure you are right about it being an excellent retention tool. Most Owner Operators appreciate the time and opportunity to upgrade skills.

  • Good article. And especially true about Ontario 11 and 17. Those highways have become a death trail. Sad!