Your Driver Pool Is the First Place to Look For a Good Instructor

Since minimum training standards for driver-instructors will not happen in the near future, how should a carrier find them? Have you looked in your own driver pool? What are the qualities that make a truck driver a good instructor? The answers may surprise you.

From my experience, the classic first mistake most carriers make is to ask the best truck driver or the real ‘natural driver’ to become an instructor. It is assumed that if a driver is really good then he/she would be a good instructor. Why not? Just think about this… How many of you have had a teacher who ‘really knew his stuff’ but was terrible at teaching the subject? I know I’ve had several of these mediocre teachers. In fact, people who are knowledgeable and learn very easily are often at a disadvantage to becoming teachers. Since learning comes so easy for them, they do not fully grasp the concept of breaking tasks into several small steps. Since they can usually skip many of the steps and still learn, they find it frustrating to teach someone. So the most important thing to remember is to not assume that a good truck driver will be a good instructor.

There are several cues that a carrier can look for when trying to identify potential instructors. Instead of looking for the ‘natural driver’, the carrier will have to look for the ‘natural teacher’. This is a combination of behaviours and characteristics that are common to good instructors. There is also a good chance that this driver has a ‘no accident’ record. Think and look at your workforce with a different lens and you may find some very suitable teachers among them.

You should first look for a driver who actually likes people and respects them. It may sound obvious and a little simplistic but the driver must enjoy being around people and be sincerely interested in them. That is really the hallmark of a teacher… being attentive, interested and respectful. By being present, the instructor will observe the student’s behaviour and then identify what is preventing learning. To see where the student is going wrong, one has to really stop and observe how the skill is being performed. By careful observation, the instructor can start to pin point where the skill is failing and why the student is losing confidence. Being corrected in a respectful manner is the cornerstone to teaching adult learners.

The ideal candidate must also be a person who wants to help and encourage others. This is the driver who everyone likes to talk to about a problem. They seek out this individual because they feel safe that their concerns will be taken seriously. In teaching, these skills translate into the ability to challenge students to see new solutions to problems in a kind and gentle way. When the student knows the instructor is approachable and understanding, they will naturally want to work harder and take risks without the fear of being ridiculed or criticized.

Look for the driver who has good communication skills. The carrier should identify a person who can resolve a conflict without resorting to outbursts and threats. This is the person who calmly solves issues by identifying the problem and suggesting solutions to resolve them. The end result is that problems have been worked out and everyone still feels ok. Teaching is all about establishing strong communication by asking questions, listening to verbal and non-verbal signals, giving clear instructions and providing feedback. All students want and need to know how they are doing and why they are not being successful. They will continually ask you why they have to do things your way. Communicating effectively will encourage learning.

Find the driver who is patient… with dispatchers, customers, other drivers and management. An essential skill for every instructor is lots of patience. There is no limit to the number of times an instructor will have to repeat, repeat and repeat again. Then just when you think they’ve got it, they’ll forget and you’ll have to again repeat. A new skill is a weak skill. It requires constant practice and constant reminders. Yet students will not remember how many times they have asked the question or how often the instructor has repeated the instructions. Believe it or not, this calm and patient individual is currently in your workplace.

Look for the driver who is interested in the performance of the new drivers in your company. And it’s probably also the person who has an innate need to ‘give back’. They were helped by someone in the past to get that first job and as a result they have been successful in their career. Now they want to help and contribute to their industry in a different way. When you find drivers who possess the qualities and behaviours of a natural teacher, give them some help to get started. Provide them with teaching materials and tools so they can learn about this new profession. And pay them right. It’s a hard job with many risks and challenges but it’s also a very rewarding one.
Louise Philbin
Co-founder and Education Director
5th Wheel Training Institute
Haileybury, Ontario