Team summitting a mountain

Driver Trainers vs. Online Training

A few weeks ago, at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, I was talking to a couple of fleet people who were interested in our service. They went through a lot of typical questions about what's included, how it works, and what's involved in getting setup. Then they asked me a question that I always find fascinating - what we say to fleet driver trainers who feel threatened by us.

Years ago, when I first heard the question, I was taken aback. Why would a driver trainer have an issue with an eLearning system? Classroom trainers were some of the earliest proponents of eLearning, so it didn't make sense to me that someone would feel threatened by it. After exploring the issue a bit, though, I figured out what was going on. When the question came up at MATS, I knew where this fleet was coming from, and we ended up having a good discussion about it.

The simple explanation is that driver trainers are sometimes threatened by us because they're forgetting what their job really is, and because they're grossly undervaluing their time and skills.

Driver trainers, or anyone who performs a driver training task, can spend so much time doing standup training that they start thinking their job is primarily to deliver content - stand at the front of the room and talk to a group of drivers. When they think that's their job, they get threatened by the prospect of an online training system that does the content delivery for them.

That makes perfect sense, but they're completely missing the point.

The Trainer's Real Job

The driver trainer's job is not to stand at the front of the room and talk. Their job is to build a high performing fleet.

Their job is to take the knowledge, skills, and experience that allowed them to become a top performer and recreate those in every driver in the fleet. Figure out what it takes to be the best of the best in this particular company, get everyone performing at that level, then keep raising the bar.

In the past, one of the few tools they had for doing that was classroom training. It was never a particularly good tool for that task, it was just the best tool available at the time, so that's what they used. In other words, it was the least terrible option.

Now, however, there are a variety of other tools that do a fantastic job of supporting that effort - dash cams that show on-road performance, simulators that let people practice in a safe environment, and online training that lets drivers learn important content at their convenience.

By moving the routine training pieces online, that trainer can free up a lot of hours that can be used far more effectively. Practical training in the yard, ridealongs and on-road coaching, mentoring and overall professional development - individual peformance improvement activities that are hugely valuable to the fleet, and can only be delivered by a seasoned expert who knows that fleet's distinct business environment.

Trainers should be focused on those things, not wasting their time and skills standing at the front of a room talking through slides on HOS, hazmat, or some other routine regulatory thing.

A side benefit of these other tools is that they provide actionable data for the trainer to work with. Instead of delivering the same content to every class because they're never sure exactly what people need and want to make sure everything is covered, they can now use the data provided by these other tools to see exactly where their expertise is most needed. Dash cam footage shows a driver's real time performance and the subtle things that could use some coaching. Online training provides clear feedback on what parts of the regs drivers know and don't know, so it's easy to see where they need some extra help and the things that can safely be skipped because they're already well understood.

Shifting the Conversation

Once I point this out to classroom trainers, they usually see the light. Most of them aren't super excited at the prospect of delivering routine content to a room full of half-interested drivers on a regular basis. They'd much rather be out in the yard or on the road with drivers, because they know that can have a much more significant impact on the driver's skill level, and the results can be seen much directly, as well.

The same thing happened during this conversation at MATS. They asked me what I would say to their driver trainer about moving training online and out of the classroom, and I said “standing at the front of a class all the time is a waste of that trainer's expertise - they're far too valuable for that.” Pretty much as soon as I said it, I could see the light go on in their heads and they started thinking about all the other things they'd like the trainer to be doing instead. They started getting excited about the prospect of having a trainer available to work one on one with drivers and really make a meaningful difference.

That's what trainers are there to do - make a meaningful difference for every driver in the fleet. The more we can do to get them away from routine training delivery, the more they can focus on doing that, and the better the fleet will be as a result.