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How much driver training is too much?

July 23, 2020
How can fleet managers structure an ongoing safety improvement program that shows results, is more dynamic, and is still manageable to develop and deliver?

How much training is too much? That’s a question I never thought I’d be considering, but it turns out that there is such a thing as too much driver training.

With a business that sells driver training, I acknowledge that it seems odd for me to be saying that. But there is a point at which assigning too much training ultimately loses its effectiveness.

The “too much training” situation normally comes up when fleets are doing monthly training assignments for drivers. They assign some block of training every month, and drivers need to complete it by month’s end.

Assigning safety training for drivers every month without fail is counterproductive. It isn't an effective strategy for improving driver knowledge, fleet safety, or workplace culture.

Here’s why: You can’t just drop content onto people and be done with it. You need to take time to review what happens after that content goes out, adjust the plans, work on any lingering gaps, and get drivers involved.

To maximize the effectiveness of training, it’s important to watch the effect over time and make decisions based on those effects. Maybe the training worked beautifully and solved a problem, maybe it didn’t do much at all. If new things just keep getting assigned every month, there won’t be time to see if the training is actually working.

On top of that, not everyone develops at the same pace. There are some people who may love having something new to learn every month, but refreshing their memory of existing regulations and best practices isn’t really going to fit the bill for that. Other people need more time to assimilate new knowledge and skills, so bombarding them with monthly assignments robs them of that opportunity. Of course, with drivers having different experience and skill levels, it’s also unlikely that they’re all going to need exactly the same content every month.

Finally, if it’s something that happens every month, it becomes a chore. There’s no way that people are going to find every monthly assignment timely and valuable, so it will just become one more thing they “have to do” at work.

A better approach

So what should you do instead? How do you structure an ongoing safety improvement program that shows results, is more dynamic, and is still manageable to develop and deliver?

First, think of it in terms of a monthly activity instead of monthly training. Training is one of the elements, but there are other activities that can be incorporated to support that training that are just as effective.

Start with a quarterly cycle of monthly activities centered around a specific topic area:

  • Month 1 – training assignment in the topic area (traditional online course, 20-30 minutes required to complete)
  • Month 2 – survey collecting feedback from drivers on their work experiences related to the topic (e.g. real-world examples of it, stories from the road)
  • Month 3 – create custom content related to the topic, such as a video reviewing the information covered in the training assignment or a recap of the feedback gathered from Month 2.

That’s just one example, but there are many variations available. There might be some live events in a particular month, or maybe someone finds a YouTube video that relates to the subject. Or drivers could be asked to post related pictures on Facebook for a contest. What matters is that the monthly activities incorporate content specific to the company, and that drivers have a chance to participate rather than just being told to complete something.

By combining those elements, a more engaging program is created, the workforce becomes more invested in it, and the content gets ingrained more deeply into the minds and work habits of the participants. You want training to “stick.”

By running it on a quarterly schedule, the pace of activities gives people time to think about the content and adjust their daily habits accordingly. There’s also more time to watch the results of those efforts in the field and adjust future plans as necessary.

Note that there’s still monthly engagement with drivers here. The practice of assigning new training every month may have stopped, but there’s still interaction with drivers and the topic of the quarter gets a deeper focus.

There’s also a better story when an audit or court case happens – not only is the fleet regularly training its drivers but it’s also involving them in that process more actively and evolving the program to respond to industry and workplace changes. And since a more engaged workforce is less likely to leave, turnover can improve as well, making the story even better.

Better engagement with drivers, better turnover numbers, and a better story for auditors - those are things you can't have too much of.

Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association.

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