CALGARY, Alta. -Trimac Transportation’s new Learning Centre is the next step in the far-flung company’s ongoing quest to ensure it has a steady stream of qualified pros ready to roll.
It’s also more than that. Ken Arthur, Trimac’s central training instructor for Canada and the man who’s the face of the Calgary facility, also sees it as a way to help bring more professionalism to a trucking industry he thinks could use it.
“We truly want to make sure that our employees are set up to succeed,” Arthur says, stressing that “when you set somebody up to fail, you shouldn’t be surprised when they do and when you set people up to succeed, typically they will -and so will everybody else around them. Our job is to give them the tools.”
Opened officially on Jan. 1, the Trimac Learning Centre builds on the success of an earlier one in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, and is now the home base for the company’s training initiatives across Canada. And with a background stretching back to 1986 with Trimac, including driving and training, Arthur appears to be a good choice to run it.
“I’ve been involved with the training for many years,” he says. “I worked with the guys one-on-one, taught them the job and mentored them in the trucks as well.” Arthur always thought the idea of having a central training facility was a good one and, through a bit of geographical good fortune, the region he happened to be in “kind of pioneered it.”
The Sherwood Park facility started operating nearly three years ago, but Arthur says it made more sense to use Calgary as the central base going forward. He points out that not only is Trimac’s headquarters in the city, but “Calgary is typically an easier centre to fly in and out of,” because when people fly into Edmonton they’re often routed through Calgary anyway.
The new facility, on the second floor of an unassuming building, will see all new Trimac hires receive training -not only drivers, but mechanics, wash rack workers and even traffic supervisors. “It’s actually a four-day program, but we work it into a five-day week,” Arthur says.
What they do is create a class for up to 12 employees made up of two sets of up to six each, one of whom could be, for example, petroleum-based and one dry bulk-based.
“We start one group on Monday with a day of product stewardship, teaching the product, the equipment and the basic handling procedures,” Arthur says. “Then, on Tuesday through Thursday, everyone would come in for the Trimac basic North American standards criteria, after which the first group would be finished.”
That leaves Friday for the second group to receive its specialized product training. “We’re still working with that schedule, trying to make it all work,” Arthur says. “It’s relatively a new deal as far as that goes.”
The training includes Trimac’s safety policies -the professional driver improvement courses Trimac calls Decision Driving -wheel and brake training, transportation of dangerous goods, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Fatigue, Hazard Identification, etc. Arthur says it’s a series of basic criteria that’s standard across Trimac branches North America-wide.
The multimedia classroom training is done live, using audio and video and the same type of onboard computer drivers will have in their cabs. The Hazard Identification course is a “very basic training on how to identify a simple hazard,” Arthur says, “what to do as far as corrective actions -is it something you can fix right now, is it something you need to take to your supervisor, is it something the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) committee has to look at? All of that is included.”
Students are also taken right through a Trimac branch, from the office to the shop, wash rack and truck, including how to fuel up the truck and more.
Once students complete the theory portion of the course they then pile into a big van and go for a drive, part of a refresher on the basic driving skills and rules of the road.
“What we’ve found is that bad habits don’t come out in a classroom,” Arthur says. “But they truly come out when you get behind the wheel.” What happens, he says, is that many of the things learned early in a driving career end up “kind of covered up with dust, and this course gives us the opportunity to blow the dust off and bring the things that we knew back to the surface to make sure we’re doing what we should.”
One of the skills that tends to collect the most dust, Arthur says, is proper following distance.
“People get very comfortable,” he says. “You can go down Deerfoot Trail (in Calgary) and see it just about any moment of the day where everybody’s two feet off of each other. It’s fine until something goes wrong.”
Trimac tries to put some checks and measures in place its drivers can use on the road -whether in their cars or their trucks -to help ensure they aren’t disobeying basic rules of the road.
“It’s been very successful,” he says. “The guys enjoy it and we have some laughs and it works well.”
It doesn’t end there. “When the guys are done in the Learning Centre, they go back to the branch,” Arthur says, “to get their site-specific training because every branch has its own world, different customers, different requirements.”
Trimac does most of its recurring, follow-up training via e-learning, including TDG (transportation of dangerous goods) and WHMIS certification.
“We want the employees to come in here and get the full-blown proper training to begin with,” Arthur says, “and then the branch takes care of the follow-up e-learning, depending where they’re located.”
Calgary’s Learning Centre is mostly a one-person operation, though Arthur works closely with his partner, Julie Rutledge, in Burlington. “She schedules all training across Canada and conducts training in French and English predominantly in Eastern Canada,” Arthur says. “Julie is a big part of the team, working hard at keeping things running smoothly.”
Arthur will be working with other driver-trainers from around the company, too.
“We want to make sure they understand the message that’s coming out of this classroom,” he says, “and we want the same message being sent at the branch level in the truck with the guy.”
He’ll also be taking advantage of some driver-trainers’ specialized knowledge to do product stewardship. ” It gives the guys a break from
me,” he says, “and gives (driver-trainers) an opportunity to build their skills.”
As of late March, Trimac had run eight classes through the Learning Centre, with a total of 56 trainees and Arthur says things are only going to get busier.
“We are hiring across the country right now,” he says. “It’s been a little bit slow but there is some spark out there as far as hiring goes, and that’s good.”
That doesn’t mean the company is looking for people who just walked in off the street and want to be truck drivers, though. “We have a whole list of company criteria,” Arthur says, “including a minimum two years’ highway experience.”
Arthur acknowledges the chicken-and-egg conundrum makes it tough for new drivers. “Everybody wants experience,” he says, “but how do you get experience if you don’t get the opportunity?”
Trimac does have a process in place to consider occasional exceptions for the right driver, however. “We’ve had success bringing people up who have limited experience,” Arthur says. “And I’ve mentored them for whatever time it’s taken.” The upside of a green driver is that they come with no bad habits. “Sometimes it’s sort of hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
The Learning Centre can also be used to provide recurring training for drivers the company may deem need it. “We can do a follow-up if there’s an incident or something,” Arthur says. “We want to get in front of it, we want to stop it before it happens. That’s our primary drive.”
Arthur credits Trimac’s management with fostering the drive for excellence, and with being interested enough in the training aspect to take a
hands-on approach. “It’s not unusual when I’m teaching classes that some of the executives show up,” he says. “They walk in and introduce themselves to the group and it’s sincere. They truly want this to work.”
The idea is to help the company be proactive, Arthur says. “We want to get in front of the ball and stay in front of it,” he says, “and a learning centre like this it sends a very strong message to our people.” Arthur says the trouble and expense of sending someone to Calgary from wherever in the Trimac world they may be employed tells the employees that the company takes their training seriously.
“This is not smoke and mirrors,” he says. “They have a big investment in it, but they truly believe it will pay off in the end as far as safety and injuries go. We don’t want anybody getting injured -it’s just that simple.”
How are the results so far? “There have been improvements,” Arthur says. “You get peaks and valleys as you do with most things, but we’ve absolutely seen a success rate.”
Arthur bemoans what he sees as a lack of professionalism in a lot of the industry today, some of which he thinks may be made worse by a lack of official recognition that truck driving is a trade like any other, one that takes years to learn. When he was a kid, he says, his father (who wasn’t a driver) would target the places where the trucks were parked as the best places to eat. “The truckers were the kings of the road,” he says. “Everybody looked up to them. But it’s changed and that’s why the general public has got a bad taste in their mouth about trucks.”
It appears that with its focus on the new Learning Centre, however, Trimac is actively working to instill the needed professionalism and experience into its drivers and, through that, perhaps back into the industry at large.
“Being professional is absolutely critical,” Arthur says. “And that’s what we want, professional drivers.”