January 12, 2021

Are your driver trainers road-ready as well?


Effective training requires a range of skills

The trucker life isn’t for everyone and the same is true for trainers. Arguably, a driver’s performance on the road is a reflection of the quality of training he or she receives, which is why it’s important for carriers to make equally sure that the ones holding the clipboard are road-ready as well

Reliance Partners’ Director of Safety Brian Runnels urges fleets to focus internally when it comes to safety and risk mitigation, suggesting that a greater emphasis should be placed on “train-the-trainer” programs.

He argues that companies with driver training programs need to put just as much, if not more, effort into training their trainers as they do with drivers new to industry. This entails setting up internal training the trainer programs that align with the values and safety expectations of your company.

When it comes to safety, companies must practice what they preach. Each carrier is responsible for instilling a culture of safety throughout its ranks, which means that it shouldn’t be just the drivers on the hook. Runnels adamantly believes trainers play an integral role in driver development and are the first line of defense when it comes to fleet safety.

In his nearly 30-year career in transportation, Runnels enjoyed tenures both behind the wheel and as a trainer and consultant. All told, he recorded 2 million safe driving miles as well as designed and managed training courses for entry-level drivers in addition to train-the-trainer programs.

“Trainers are an extension of the safety and human resources departments …,” Runnels said. “It’s important for the safety department or whoever’s putting the program together within the company to establish a program that covers all facets of your operation, because the more the trainers know the, more information they can pass along.”

Runnels explained that an effective train-the-trainer program wires trainers to think, “OK, that didn’t work. Let me try this.”

For instance, when he received trainer training, the carrier encouraged each driver trainer to exchange phone numbers and to regularly stay in contact with one another.

“We were able to bounce ideas off each other, asking, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get this guy to turn better and whatever I’m saying is just not getting through to him. What do you think?’” Runnels said. “Being able to share those ideas and best practices many times solved the problem. A couple of us are still in contact today.”

Runnels noted that it was important for him as a trainer to not only teach drivers the skills to drive the truck, but also how to live on the road, manage downtime and trip plan. He cites the inability to trip plan as a significant contributor to burnout and turnover among many drivers.

“The trainer is the person that’s going to make or break a student’s transition,” Runnels said. “Many of them have always liked the idea of becoming a truck driver, but when it actually comes down to it, it’s quite a lifestyle change.”

For trainers, the end goal should be the same — ensuring that each driver receives the same standard of instruction. However, Runnels suggests this doesn’t mean each driver should be taught the same way. In fact, he asserts that trainers should remain patient with each student and be willing to adapt their methods according to the driver’s skill level and learning style.

“Sometimes teaching two different people the same identical thing doesn’t work for one of them,” Runnels said, explaining that something as simple as teaching how to turn the steering wheel to get the trailer to go the way you want can be difficult for some drivers to grasp.

Most importantly, Runnels believes that what distinguishes an extraordinary driver trainer from an average one is the trainer’s motivation for teaching altogether. He says the role should be held solely by those with patience, a passion for teaching and a desire for safer roadways.

A passion for teaching, Runnels said, often stems from trainers’ firsthand experience with a trainer themselves, whether it be good or bad. He suggests that many take up teaching positions to pass along the excellent training that they once received. Inversely, others are driven to make sure that future drivers don’t receive a subpar learning experience like they did.

While he doesn’t necessarily consider it a bad thing to incentivize payment based squarely on students’ performance, Runnels said that he doesn’t want individuals to become trainers for the wrong reasons.

Regardless of one’s reasons for becoming an instructor, Runnels asserts that what makes a trainer truly special is his or her willingness to bond with drivers beyond their instructional duties. A driver can ace the fundamentals of driving but struggle adjusting to a life of solitude on the open road — an experience that drivers are seldom prepared for.

“A good trainer should be everything from instructor, mentor, trainer, psychologist and friend,” Runnels said.