Few teachers are more effective than life experience. As much as can be conveyed through formal training, seminars and manuals, the missing pieces come together when applying the lessons in everyday life.
It is where drivers pick up details such as the best route into a particular loading dock, see first-hand how training in defensive driving can help to avoid a collision, or observe a company policy at work.
The problem is that the trucking industry is losing much of this experience.
The average age of a truck driver continues to climb as the industry struggles to find new recruits. Long-term employees are approaching retirement age at an increasing rate. Once they are gone, that know-how is gone forever.
But there is an opportunity to capture this insight for the next generation. Formal mentorship programs offer one of the most effective ways for experienced personnel to share their knowledge with the industry’s newest recruits.
The structured relationships play a key role in the driver finishing programs which help entry-level drivers complete the transition from a training school to workplace.
Mentorships can even help those who are making the transition from one fleet to the next.
Some people will make more-effective mentors than others.
The best candidates are able to explain what someone is doing correctly, or offer constructive criticism that will keep a protege from becoming defensive. They have a well-deserved reputation for helping peers. Each piece of advice draws on personal experience to put information into context. They observe, listen and encourage; embrace the company policies and procedures that employees are expected to meet, instead of always presenting a “better way” to do things.
Rather than jumping in to take over a situation, they are also willing to let proteges learn from mistakes, unless a situation would truly put everyone in harm’s way. Instead of delivering an answer outright, the pair can brainstorm about the pros and cons of different choices, leading to a solution organically.
Personal dynamics need to be considered, too. Fleets which take the time to screen mentors and proteges alike find the best matches between personalities and learning styles.
A new recruit with a particular cultural background or language barrier might engage most effectively with someone who shares a similar background. Other people might feel most comfortable working with someone close to their own age.
Once in place, mentors who actually share a truck cab with their protege can watch to see if a new employee is slipping into bad habits, such as following too close or failing to manage time and space to reflect traffic conditions.
They are the ones who will be able to ensure that pre-trip inspections are properly completed on the road. And they can also point their fellow employees to other areas of support, such as Employee Assistance Programs which can help the new hires overcome personal challenges.
The guidance, after all, is not limited to guiding a truck down the road. Mentors don’t even need to share the truck cab.
They are a source of information that helps to steer someone through all the challenges and decisions which define the job.
Sometimes the support involves talking through personal issues, whether they involve struggles with a particular dispatcher, or dealing with extended time away from home.
Trucking HR Canada stresses the opportunity to serve as a mentor can even be used as a tool to retain aging drivers, who might be inclined to stay on the job to help the generation of people who will follow them in the driver’s seat.
Everyone likes to be recognized for the skills they possess. Mentors of every age embrace the chance to develop new skills, increase self esteem, and enhance communication abilities which emerge in the process.
The ultimate structure of these programs vary. Trucking HR Canada suggests they should last at least 30 days, presenting enough time to discuss a broad range of issues and establish a relationship.
But there needs to be ground rules no matter how long it lasts. Everyone should understand how long the mentoring continues, the frequency and type of meetings (particularly if the employees do not actually share a truck cab), and how feedback will be shared.
Where one mentor might be willing to answer a call any time of day or night, another may prefer to set specific boundaries.
But even after that time period ends, the personal relationships remain for years to come.
This month’s expert is Kevin Brandon, risk services specialist. Kevin has served the industry for more than 25 years in loss control, transportation safety and insurance risk engineering. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.