How poor training contributes to driver shortages – Lockdown
There are millions of reasons to improve the truck driver training system (if it can really be called a “system”). One of these reasons may not be obvious, but I’m sure it’s real. It’s driver retention, and I think proper training is an almost surefire way to keep people behind the wheel.
Make drivers comfortable with what they are doing, on and off the road, making sure they feel confident in traffic and weather, and most importantly understand the truck and its different mechanical and electronic components. There’s more to a driver’s role, of course, but if he’s unsure of those basics, nerves and stress and poor performance will follow. And that’s not conducive to job satisfaction.
If we don’t prepare truckers well, for what isn’t easy work, we just force them to fail – or at the very least become unsure of themselves and then resentful. Not the way to start a career.
How many truck driving schools teach beginners the practical meaning of center of gravity, for example? I bet that’s a tiny minority. You certainly won’t see this in the cheap schools that are popping up because they just prepare people for a road test. But send a rookie with such minimal training on their first trip from the plains to mountain riding and the result could well be disaster (or at the very least dirty jeans). Just ask any mountain road officer about this scenario and your ears will be aplenty.
On a much simpler level, the veterans among you will remember people who complained years ago of suddenly being given a truck with a 13-speed Fuller to drive when they were used to a 10 gears or to another simpler gearbox. No instruction, no access to a manual (and probably no time to read it anyway). Missed shifts and attention lapses surely followed. And the complainants weren’t always new drivers.
The same goes for the abundance of technology that needs to be learned today. Training on that front, from what I hear, is rare.
Throw new truck drivers in the deep end before they’re ready
Forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but my own nephew was the victim of poor preparation, and it helped to cut short his driving career. He was a natural for the job, a skilled driver with good mechanical senses, and he paid a lot of money to train at a good school where he excelled. I immediately got him an interview with what I thought was a premier fleet and he signed on.
But two weeks later – a raw rookie – he was sent out to pull 140,000-pound B-train flatbeds through very hilly territory. He was thrown into the deep end with far from sufficient experience or training to deal with it. Some would say it’s the best way to learn. Once upon a time when the roads were much emptier, that notion might have had at least some merit. Not today.
To his credit, while admitting he’d been scared sh** less more than once, he didn’t hit anything, didn’t kill anyone, and walked that road nervously but successfully for another few months. Yet he launched his career on a very sour note and quit trucking soon after. Our industry has lost a good one.
So much for a first-rate fleet.
Adequate training = driver retention
Regardless, there is a shortage of truckers, especially long-haulers. You can restate that fact as a shortage of people willing to do the job, for all sorts of well-understood reasons, but the end result is the same: not enough people to put behind the wheel. A recruitment problem that seems to defy solution.
These scenarios also affect job satisfaction and retention of more experienced drivers, who don’t want to share the road with poorly trained recruits. More and more often, for example, I hear and read veteran drivers say that they are afraid to drive certain roads in winter. Not that they can’t handle the conditions – rather than so many others can’t.
And there you have a double-edged retention problem. New drivers are not trained to feel comfortable behind the wheel, and old ones are just plain scared.
We just have to take training seriously.
The Biden administration recently announced that it is following through on its commitment to the trucking action plan by providing more than $44 million in grants to improve road safety and make the process of getting a CDL more efficient. Great, but it’s not a lot of money, and it still misses the mark. It’s just a tweak when we should actually be launching a redesign.
Sorry, Mr. Speaker, we don’t need a more efficient process half as much as we need a very tough and extremely rigorous process.