4 Training Lessons from the Trucking Industry

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 12, 2017
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Whether it's a refresher course on hauling hazardous material, a lesson on how to inspect brakes, or an update on the latest commercial driving regulations, training for drivers in the trucking industry is necessary, but efforts can fall flat.

Truckers often view training as punishment, according to Mark Murrell and Jane Jazrawy, the husband-and-wife owners and operators of a company that provides learning and development for the trucking industry in Canada and the U.S.     

That's because, typically, truckers "only got trained if they did something wrong," said Murrell of CarriersEdge, based in Markham, a suburb of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Professional development with the aim of career advancement was a foreign concept in an industry where drivers might stay in the same job for years and often only got pay raises by jumping to another company.

"Getting people to see that training is about bettering yourself is a really big change-management issue" for this industry, he said. 

Murrell and Jazrawy, who have backgrounds in education and corporate training, think trucking is under-served when it comes to training and development. It's an industry that includes small companies with limited training budgets, and drivers are "deskless employees" who need to access training outside of an office. 

When drivers are offered training, it tends to be on their weekends or in conjunction with an annual company banquet, according to Murrell.

"It's such a headache for fleets to bring drivers in for classroom training or in-person meetings, they tend to do it as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary," he explained in a follow-up e-mail to SHRM Online

"Outside of orientation, it's often only remedial training that's critical enough to justify the cost and disruption. As a result, the only time that many drivers get training is when they do something wrong, so they end up seeing training as punishment. The negative connotation causes them to devalue or discount the material they're getting, and the training effort as a whole," he noted.

"When fleets do get drivers in for a classroom session or in-person meeting, they try to cram as much as possible into it. Fleet safety professionals," who often are given the responsibility for training,  "aren't educators in the first place, so they're often not structuring the sessions as well as they could and they end up squeezing a lot of lecture material into a couple of hours with little in the way of discussion, group exercise," and the like. 

"Drivers don't learn very much, and don't really enjoy it since it's tough to keep up and there's no time to digest the material. The result is that drivers don't look forward to the meetings, don't have high expectations for learning much, and generally come away with a lower opinion of the training."

Many fleets have tried to get around those problems by having monthly "training" that consists of a few pages of checklists and company policy updates, he noted.

"That leads to people calling everything training, even when it's just document dissemination, and since the quality and effectiveness is generally weak, drivers end up with a lower opinion of the training in general," Murrell said.

The couple shared some lessons they've learned about training and development that can apply to trucking and other industries.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employees]

1. Tap key influencers. At trucking companies, million-milers—drivers who have driven accident-free for that many miles—are the most respected people among their colleagues, Jazrawy told SHRM Online. "If you can connect with them, then they will really champion [learning and development] if they think it's something good for drivers." 

Use those key influencers in pilot programs and ask for their feedback.

Make the audience part of the discussion around [the training]," Murrell said. Additionally, tTraining that requires technology can lead to push-back, he noted. Employees who are not technology-savvy "can poison the entire [training endeavor]" because they fear they'll look stupid or because they dislike change.

2. Be sensitive to employee demographics. Truckers tend to be late adopters of technology, and while some companies have started issuing laptops or tablets to their drivers, many drivers still use flip-phones instead of more sophisticated smartphones, Murrell noted.

"Plan on connecting with people in other ways," he advised. "You've got to find a way to reach them and make them feel a part of the organization." 

3. Consider on-demand learning. The couple has found that—as with many industries—employers training available whenever their drivers need it. 

"They want it to be easily accessed. … They want [users] to be able to choose from a list of courses. They also want to put their [corporate] information online," such as company PowerPoint decks, Murrell said.

4. Put learning in context. One challenge the couple faced was putting training in the context of the driver's workday. They discovered that videos—showing drivers how to conduct themselves at an accident scene, for instance, or demonstrating how to properly inspect brakes—can be valuable tools.
"Showcase what [the training] means … 'We've told you what you should do, and this is what it looks like,' " Murrell advised.   

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