ITI: How do you balance the needs of the business and the demands on drivers’ time with training and safety?
Weisinger: Our organization’s #1 core value is safety, and there’s a level of commitment from our executives on down to that safety value.
We also believe that training is an enabler of the business, not a distractor. It takes much more time for a driver to wait for a wrecker if they’ve been in an accident than to put them through training. We are eliminating waste by making sure drivers have what they need to stay out of trouble.
ITI: You train new drivers different based on their experience. Tell us about working with experienced drivers.
Weisinger: Our training follows our driver hiring model. When I first stepped into this role, about 65% of our new hires were inexperienced — either straight out of school or coming to us only with a learner’s permit. When the economy contracted, we hired only experienced drivers, and set aside the infrastructure for training new drivers. In the past 18 months or so, we’ve adopted a 50-50 hiring mix of experienced and inexperienced drivers.
With experienced drivers, we have about a 3 1/2 day onboarding program. There is not much behind-the-wheel training in this program. We do a road qualification test, obviously. We help them understand Schneider’s communications, our Qualcomm units, and introduce them to the various departments they’ll work with (like maintenance and safety). We make sure everyone understand the regulatory requirements, because even with experienced drivers, not everyone does. And we work on getting from A-to-B with trip planning. It’s really more orientation than training.
For experienced drivers, we bring them back in after just two weeks. That’s not much time, but we’ve found that it’s pretty traumatic going from one company to the next. A lot of them are hesitant to ask questions. They tend to believe because they’re experienced, everyone expects them to know all the answers already. So after two weeks, they come in and spend time with a trainer. It lets them ask questions, plus they get behind the wheel of a driving simulator or truck. It’s an additional safety check.
ITI: What do you differently with inexperienced drivers?
Weisinger: They come in for 4 days of what we call: “hard skills training.” That means they’re behind the wheel of the truck. We make sure their truck skills are good and solid. After that, they spend about a week hauling freight over-the-road with an experienced driver that we call a Training Engineer. The training engineer has the discretion to keep them longer if needed. After a week, they know what trucking is about. Most of them stay, but some of them realize that maybe it’s not the right career for them.
After their time on the road, they spend three days in soft skills training: Hours of service, map reading, proper logs, learning the Qualcomm, driving simulators, emergency procedures. Then they do Skills Qualification Testing — sort of like a final exam. That’s done with a neutral party: a training engineer who hasn’t had any experience with them.
Finally, they complete what we call “SafeTrack.” We bring them in 4-6 weeks after initial training. They will come in and go through a road test, demonstrate their skills around the truck and show their regulatory understanding. Bad habits can be formed relatively quickly, and SafeTrack lets us correct those.
ITI: Who are these people training your drivers?
Weisinger: We have those who work in initial driver programs in the classroom and the truck, and then we have operations support representatives who work with drivers post-incident or accidents.
For behind the wheel training, we have about 300 Training Engineers. For many of them, they appreciated the investment of time someone made into them early in their own career, and so they want to pay it forward. For a small number, you’ll hear the opposite: “My training experience wasn’t positive, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to someone else.” A lot of them come from a military background, and they have a great willingness to contribute. Obviously, a lot of them enjoy the additional money, because we compensate them for their time and effort.
ITI: How has your training changed over the years?
Weisinger: Training is ever-changing. We spend a lot of time listening to our customers, and our own operations teams. We’ve sought to make training more dynamic, including new technology. Several years ago, when we heavily recruited and trained inexperienced drivers, we invested in redesigning training for that pocket of drivers. We incorporated computer-based training, and simulators.