It’s Time for Minimum Standards for Driver-Instructors

Sean is a seasoned truck driver and he’s very upset about the lack of standards for training driver-instructors. He works hard to do a good job and really cares about making sure new drivers are well prepared and safe to work on
our roads. But he doesn’t believe the industry cares as much as he does and this makes him want to talk about it. That’s why he called me after he read my article in the July edition of Over the Road. He wanted to share his experiences and concerns.
What he told me did not really shock me since I have heard similar stories. But I was disheartened to hear that little is changing in the industry regarding training. Is it possible that some carriers still assign drivers with only three to six months experience to become the trainers of entry-level drivers? And one may wonder since Sean is so concerned with this, why doesn’t he accept the challenge of becoming a driver-instructor? The answers to both questions are rooted in the fact that no standards exist. Starting to talk about training our trainers is the first step.
It may be an isolated incident and an extreme example where a carrier would assign such inexperienced drivers as trainers. But it does make us take notice of the wide gap when it comes to standards. There is no shortage of opinion regarding what would work. I can only tell you that from my years of experience, best practices exist and they can frame a solid training program. The backbone of an ideal training program for driver-instructors includes four building blocks: knowledge instruction, practice teaching, coaching & feedback and continuous professional development.
Knowledge Instruction

Many drivers are skeptical of the benefits of knowledge or theory training. They don’t yet know that there is much to learn about learning. The chances are that they have mostly learned their skills by-doing. As a result they are not convinced that learning concepts in the classroom would help them to teach someone to drive a truck. That’s precisely why they need a solid base of knowledge. The first thing to understand is that an adult learner will learn differently than a child or teen. Trainers will also need to identify their own learning style. It will help clarify how others learn which in turn explains why we have our own preferred teaching style. So many skills need to be understood before putting them into practice: communication, presentation skills, asking questions, using teaching aids, writing lesson plans, managing groups and difficult behaviours, assessing student performance and meeting legislative requirements. Once the knowledge portion is achieved, the driver-instructor will then have a wealth of knowledge to draw on when teaching.
Practice Teaching

Once the trainer has the educational knowledge, it’s time to put it into practice. By spending time with a seasoned driver-instructor, the new trainer will see how the skills are put into practice. This is also where personal work experiences on the road are woven into teaching. Either in the classroom on in the truck, the instructor will hone the skills needed to transmit all the knowledge and experience and help a driver become a professional. Now the new instructor starts to experience the successes of an effective trainer.
Coaching and Feedback

Any learner wants to know “How am I doing?” The driver-instructor is no exception. It is important to provide feedback on teaching techniques and to discuss challenges which will always happen. Consistent attention to results will encourage the new instructor to keep improving.
Continuous Professional Development

But the learning never stops. Companies need to believe that continuous learning must become part of its culture. This is where the driver-instructors will participate in regular staff development and activities; their performance is regularly monitored and evaluated and they receive formal instruction to improve. As a result, their teaching experiences will start to provide a great deal of personal satisfaction. They will see their contribution to the success of the new drivers and the company’s improved safety record.
It is always a hard sell to convince carriers that training dollars are a good investment. But the benefits are tangible. It improves employee recruitment and retention, enlarges the pool of skilled workers and their company is viewed as a place where there is advancement, opportunity and a culture of safety. Reducing employee turnover affects the bottom line. I believe all these outcomes are desirable.
And where does Sean fit into this picture? He’s not unlike many experienced truck drivers who are career professionals and have a lot to share but are often reluctant to do so. I believe his reluctance to share his knowledge is based on two factors. First of all he wants to receive formal training to become a successful driver-instructor. And secondly, he wants to be paid fairly for accepting the risks and the responsibilities that come with this role. I find his requests reasonable and fair.
Even if organizations like the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) have developed standards to bridge the gap between entry-level truck driver training and solo driving; they will probably not be adopted. The driver finishing programs that are meant to be implemented with carriers, where qualified trainers prepare inexperienced drivers to drive solo, will continue to sit unused. Until there are mandated minimum standards, it will continue to be difficult to convince carriers to implement them. And only when standards exist will Sean be encouraged or compelled to become part of the solution.


Louise Philbin
Co-founder and Education Director
5th Wheel Training Institute
Haileybury, Ontario