Many truck drivers are drawn to the profession by the promise of independence, solitude, and tranquility behind the wheel. So, it’s little wonder it’s challenging to find driver-trainers willing to sacrifice all that in order to help mould the next generation of professional drivers.
“A lot of drivers aren’t interested in coaching,” Michelle Drew, human resources manager for Linamar said at a 2019 Ontario Truck Training Schools Association event. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of extra responsibility they’re not willing to take on.”
Kriska Group has 15 driver instructors and is also challenged finding qualified people willing to fill the role. And it’s a vital role, since driver-trainers are essentially the gatekeepers charged with protecting the fleet against the infiltration of unsuitable and unsafe drivers. Caroline Blais, recruiting manager, said “we rely heavily” on driver-trainers and notes even though few drivers are interested in the job, it’s important not to compromise when placing people into the role.
So, what exactly are fleets looking for when identifying potential driver-trainers?
“The quality we hold the highest is the candidate’s personality,” said Keith Wood, Kriska’s driver-trainer supervisor. “Many people think that carriers would look to their high-performing drivers and want to train them, but they generally don’t make the best trainers. Trainers need to be patient, good communicators and be genuinely interested in other people. Patience is required because students will work slower, and they need to be able to perform tasks at their own speed while they are learning.”
At Kriska, drivers occasionally come forward looking to become trainers, while others are actively identified and recruited. David Thomas said he got noticed as a candidate because he always smiled and waved when he entered and left Kriska’s yard, demonstrating a good attitude. He jumped at the opportunity because he had a positive experience with the driver-trainers he learned under when joining Kriska and wanted to pay it forward.
For Peter Durant, another seasoned Kriska trainer, training came naturally after years spent driving team with his wife; he was able to easily adjust to having company along for long trips in a confined space.
Both told Today’s Trucking adaptability is a key attribute for any successful driver-trainer. Trainers must be willing to ascertain how a trainee prefers to learn and then adjust their training methods on the fly. They must also recognize there are nuances in training drivers of various career backgrounds, age and even cultures, and adapt accordingly.
In addition to patience, said Wood, essential skills include communication and an open mind.
“There are a lot of other things we can fix – attitude is not something we can fix.”Steve Newton, Challenger Motor Freight
“The trainer will need to be able to explain concepts in more than one way, adapting to the student’s needs,” he said.
Challenger Motor Freight has nearly 50 driver-trainers, who assist about 200-275 entry-level trainees each year, as well as another 100 or so experienced drivers who are pulled in for remedial training. Asked how prospective driver-trainers are discovered, director of safety Steve Newton said attitude is the first must-have attribute.
“The first step is their attitude, especially toward safety,” he said. “There are a lot of other things we can fix – attitude is not something we can fix.”
Newton looks for drivers who have a passion for their job. “If they love what they do, they’ll put the passion into helping others,” he reasoned.
Brett Nymeyer, Challenger’s training supervisor, said candidates are also judged on their driving records before they’re given an on-road evaluation. At both Kriska and Challenger, driver-trainers earn training pay over and above the mileage-based revenue generated by the truck. This helps incentivize them for taking on a student who will likely slow them down and potentially infringe on their space.
“We pay them a set rate per day for training, so they get their normal wage as if they’re doing the work and they get a set wage on top of that on a daily basis for doing the training,” said Newton.
Some driver-trainers, like Durant, like to always have a trainee with them, while others, including Thomas, prefer to break up the routine by making solo runs between training assignments. Challenger’s Nymeyer said trainer preferences are accommodated to prevent trainer burnout.
When a potential trainer is identified, a clean safety record and a good attitude will only get you so far. The process to become a driver-trainer at Kriska is quite extensive.
“We have introduced a three-day Train the Trainer program,” Wood explained. “This program involves both classroom and in-truck learning. The classroom section deals with adult learning, effective communication of tasks, providing constructive criticism in a positive manner and some strategies for having difficult conversations with students who may be struggling.”
The in-truck portion includes a full road evaluation, while the candidate provides a running commentary of everything they do. They’re then asked to teach a senior instructor a task, such as backing.
“The goal of this is to help them refine the way they are communicating their ideas to the student,” Wood said. From there, continuing follow-up, biannual re-certification and annual trainer meetings are required.
Mike Iasparro, team lead, safety and compliance with the Canadian Tire Retail fleet, came about his role in a unique way. The Ontario Trucking Association Road Knight was identified as a promising trainer before even obtaining his A/Z licence. He now oversees a team of trainers who conduct road evaluations and in-class training for the company’s agency-supplied driving force.
When choosing members to add to his training team, he looks for those who have a “willingness to learn from the drivers” and those who accept constructive feedback.
“They have to be adaptable, and able to make sure students understand what the end goals are and how we’re going to get there,” he said. “They have to show a little more patience with some of the weaker students and not rush them. Different people learn different ways and as an instructor you have to be intuitive on that piece.”
Among the great rewards of being a driver-trainer, said Iasparro, is “knowing you had a part in that driver being placed on the roads, making the roads safer, one driver at a time.”
But there’s another benefit, said Thomas. “Being a trainer has absolutely made me a better driver,” he said, proving that learning, in this game, is a never-ending process.
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