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Driver training: A necessary evil or opportunity?

Oct. 19, 2021
As the industry becomes more competitive, a modern, well-constructed professional development program for drivers is powerful and necessary.

Do they, or don’t they? That’s the question many fleets ask when it comes to whether drivers want or embrace training. 

Unfortunately, “don’t want” seems to be cemented in the minds of many safety people—it’s almost a base assumption that drivers don’t want to do training. So, safety managers feel they must find ways to coax or coerce drivers into doing it.

But, do they?

In the thousands of surveys we’ve conducted, the vast majority of drivers do want training, and value having opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. In fact, we’ve never had less than 90% of respondents agree that it’s important for them to continue learning.

So, if the vast majority of drivers do want ongoing training, then why do fleets assume they don’t? Why has “drivers don’t want training” become so accepted?

I believe it’s due to misinterpreting the data, failing to investigate why the data is what it is, and drawing the wrong conclusions as a result (a topic I wrote about in a previous IdeaXchange column).

There are definitely training-related things that drivers don't want, and it’s easy for fleets to generalize that into an assumption that they don’t want training at all. But, that generalization creates blind spots, which can lead to problems. So, it’s important to understand the specifics of what drivers do and don’t want.

Deciphering driver interests

If drivers are complaining about attending training, or slow to complete assignments, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re uninterested in training as a whole. It’s very likely they’re interested in learning more about the thing they spend all their days doing. It just means they’re uninterested in the training you are offeringor how you approach it.

Drivers are typically uninterested in participating if they feel they’re the ones putting in all the effort. Such as:

  • They have to give up part of their weekend for a “driver meeting” that they don’t get paid for (or get paid in sandwiches or reward points).
  • The training is passive (non-interactive reading or videos) and they have to force themselves to pay attention.
  • The content is outdated, or just regurgitated regulations, and they’re forced to figure out for themselves how it applies to their jobs.
  • Too much is assigned with too little time to complete it, creating more stress that drivers don’t need.
  • The training is characterized as ‘corrective action’ or some other phrase that makes it sound like punishment.
  • The program is rolled out in such a way that suggests it’s another chore for them to complete.

The phrase “tossing it over the fence” describes someone dumping work on others without doing a sufficient portion of it themselves or considering the implications for the recipient. Any time training looks like something being tossed over the fence, drivers see that and lose interest. In those cases, it comes off as the company trying to cover its tail, rather than an investment in their future, and then drivers lose interest. Fast.

While drivers are uniformly unexcited by those kinds of training programs, those same drivers still overwhelmingly want to learn new things. In short, drivers aren’t against training; they’re against bad training. They’re against things that don’t help them, that waste their time, and add more into their already-busy schedules.

Once we understand what it is they’re not interested in, it becomes much easier to craft a program that does interest them.

Drivers want a program where it’s clear that the company has invested as much care and effort as it expects them to invest. That means:

  • Content that is up to date and directly relevant to their work.
  • Content that keeps them engaged and fits their learning style.
  • Organization and pacing that they have some control over (so they’re not forced to review things they already know and can spend time on the areas they need).
  • Training that fits into their schedules, either delivered to them online or when they’re at a terminal.
  • Programs that include follow-up after the fact to ensure effectiveness.
  • Programs that connect to other activities in the company holistically.
  • Programs that compensate them for their time.

Changing the mindset

None of those points are monumentally difficult to implement, but they do require some planning. That won’t happen, though, if the feeling inside the company is that drivers aren’t interested in training. Misinterpreting driver feelings about training creates a bias against training over time, leading to underinvestment in training programs or excess time spent trying to coerce people into completing them. Time is better spent revisiting why the current programs are generating the responses they are and redesigning them for a better outcome.

As the industry becomes more competitive—including the battle for the best drivers and best insurance premiums alongside the battle for the best freight and pricing—a modern, well-constructed professional development program for drivers is a powerful and necessary weapon in your arsenal. 

Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a 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.

About the Author

Mark Murrell

Mark Murrell is president 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. 

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