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Drivers don't want training

Mark Murrell

The idea that drivers don't want training seems to be pretty well cemented in the minds of many safety people. When I'm talking to fleet safety or risk management people, it often comes up almost as a base assumption - drivers don't want to do training so you have to find some way to coax or coerce them into it. That base assumption hasn't really changed in the past decade or so. What fascinates me about that is that the reality of the situation is very different, and it also hasn't really changed in the past decade either.

The reality is that the vast majority of drivers do want training, and value having opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills in the workplace. Our data from the Best Fleets to Drive For program backs that up - ever since the program started we've asked drivers whether they agree that ongoing training is important, and every year they overwhelmingly agree. In fact, we've never had less than 90% of respondents agree that it's important for them to continue learning, and they regularly add supporting comments as well.

So if the vast majority of drivers do want ongoing training, and that's been consistent for over a decade now, then why do fleets assume that they don't? Why has "drivers don't want training" become such an accepted truth that fleets rarely question the assumption?

Digging into the issue, it appears to be a case of misinterpreting the data, failing to investigate why the data is what it is, and drawing the wrong conclusions as a result (another example of what I wrote about in a previous 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. However, that generalization creates a blind spot which can lead to problems for the fleet down the road. To prevent that, it's important to understand the specifics of what drivers do and don't what, and what can be done about it.

Deciphering Driver Interests

First, 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 just means they're uninterested in the training being offered. Yes, drivers are typically not excited about having to give up part of their weekend to drive to the terminal and sit through a poorly organized, poorly delivered classroom session. That doesn't mean they're not interested in learning more about the thing they spend all their days doing. Rather than assuming the issue is with the drivers (lack of motivation, disinterest in learning), it's more useful to consider why they might not be interested.

Drivers are typically uninterested in participating when they feel like they're the ones putting in all the effort. They feel like they're putting in all the effort when:

In the consulting world, 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 butt rather than an investment in their future, and they lose interest fast.

While drivers are uniformly unexcited by those kinds of training programs, those same drivers still overwhelmingly want to learn new things. I've numerous examples of this in the Best Fleets program, where fleets have training programs that sound completely horrifying, but a large majority of their drivers still want more opportunities to learn.

In short, drivers aren't against training, they're against bad training.

They're against things that don't obviously 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.

Following on the points above, they 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:

Believing the Myth Leads to Risk

None of those points are monumentally difficult or expensive to implement, but they do require some time and planning. That planning won't happen, though, if the feeling inside the company is that drivers don't want training in the first place. 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. That time would be better spent revisiting why the current programs are generating the responses they are, and redesigning them for a better outcome.

After all, with constant regulatory updates, new and improved technology, shifting traffic and business patterns, and evolving best practices, keeping drivers up to date is critical. 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, balanced, well-constructed professional development program for drivers is a powerful and necessary weapon in the arsenal.

And after 10+ years of getting the same survey responses from drivers, we know that's definitely not a myth.