How to develop young trucking talent

Trucking is desperately trying to attract young drivers to the industry as experienced drivers retire in droves. But getting them the on-road experience they need to be successful can be a challenge, and fleets often fall short of helping them achieve their true potential.

The topic was examined during a two-day workshop at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas, intended to share insights into how to better address the problem. Insurance representatives on hand emphasized they don’t refuse to cover young drivers based on their age, but often do because of their lack of experience – even though the two go hand in hand.

“Whether you’re 18, or a 40-year-old, it goes back to their experience,” said Mark Tuchmann, CEO, TIP National. “When I look at risk, it’s all about experience.” He stressed insurers aren’t automatically opposed to insuring teen truckers. “We want to write the business,” he insisted. “We want to put the guy or gal in the truck, we just need to find a way we can all feel good about that and know we’re doing the right thing.”

young truck driver
(Photo: istock)

In the U.S., there’s a growing push to allow 18-year-old drivers to engage in interstate commerce. Fleet managers in attendance said if you don’t attract drivers to the industry when they’re finishing high school, they’ll have already chosen another career path by the time they can truck across state lines at the age of 21.

“How can we show them how great it is being out on the road? I think that starts way before 18,” said Bryan Nelson, partner with law firm Taylor Johnson PL. “The more young people we get into the industry, the more there’ll be on social media saying how great this is. Until that happens, I think we’re going to be struggling.”

Jon Stanley, managing partner with training firm Synergy Solutions, said many fleets that are fortunate enough to attract young drivers fall short when it comes to preparing them for success.

“Are we teaching our drivers what it looks like to be a professional driver?” he asked. “Do my hiring practices, does my training, do my safety policies and continuous engagement with that driver sustain them to be a long-term driver for me? If not, don’t hire an 18-year-old and don’t hire a 50-year-old. Go back and fix your problem.”

To develop young drivers into true professionals, Stanley also suggests calling them something more fulfilling than “drivers.”

“They want to be something more,” he said, adding that when he worked at a fleet, he referred to them as “industrial athletes.”

The work in developing a driver doesn’t end as they age, either. “We stop engaging with those drivers who have experience. You have five years experience? I don’t need to worry about you. Then in year six they have an accident,” Stanley said.

Trevor Kurtz, president of Brian Kurtz Trucking, speaking from the audience, defended the quality of his fleet’s young drivers. He said they’re often more attentive than senior drivers. An insurance broker urged fleets looking to hire young drivers to work with their broker to find out which insurers are more willing to cover them, and what types of programs have to be in place to get them insured.

Nelson added carriers need to review their insurance policies to determine the insurability of young drivers.

“Read and understand them,” the lawyer said. “At the end of the day, I can’t change policy language.”

“Are your trainers your top performers? They shouldn’t be. They should be the person who does everything right, not who gets the most miles.”

Jon Stanley, Synergy Solutions

Ongoing training needs to focus on the competencies of individual drivers, said Stanley. “If you’re not monitoring their competency, you’re not advancing that driver.” And equal attention should go into choosing who provides that training.

“Are your trainers your top performers?” he asked. “They shouldn’t be. They should be the person who does everything right, not who gets the most miles. The person who can tell you what the handbook says without having to open up the handbook, and who is not afraid of having the hard conversations. That trainer is your first person to stop a behavior, correct it, and mentor that driver into being the driver you want them to be.”

The “top performer,” meanwhile, will be focused on teaching the new driver how to cut corners and maximize miles, Stanley contended. “He’s probably the guy who’s been lucky the last 10 years not to have an accident but is probably a ticking time bomb. Find the person in your operations who is focused on doing things right. It’s probably the guy, you don’t even know his name because he’s not at the top of your productivity list, and that’s where we’re focused as an industry.”

Among the most effective tools for developing drivers, panelists agreed, are two-way cameras. To get drivers to buy in, treat video as a form of game film that helps them improve their skills – not as a punitive tool.

“When I roll out a camera program, I’m not rolling it out. Drivers are rolling it out,” said Stanley. “It’s their program. That camera is in the truck to protect them. When you roll out a camera program, bring your drivers in and have them build the policy.”

Drivers also need to know the cameras aren’t being installed to “catch them,” and that they’ll be given the opportunity to address and improve any bad behaviors the video pick up, said Scott Randall, vice-president of risk management with Hogan Transport.

He tells drivers they won’t be terminated for anything that’s seen on video. “If you’re not receptive and responsive to the process, we’re not going to put you back in the truck. You’ll terminate yourself – I’m just the person executing the decision you’ve made by not respecting the process.”

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Amazingly most people think about the cost per hour of a driving lesson before they think about their actual goal, which is inevitably to pass their driving test. No matter how much you pay per hour if the quality of the tuition is substandard or inadequate you WILL end up taking twice as many lessons as you probably require. Some instructors will offer incredibly cheap or even free lessons in order to secure your business. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you’re getting a good deal, it’s a cheap trick and once you’re learning they will need to recoup the money somehow and this will result in you taking far more lessons than you would normally require.