Truck driver

The Cast of the Professional Trucker

Author Mokokoma Mokhonoana is known for his sometimes funny, sometimes profound expressions. One of them is that “no expert is born an expert”.

This saying couldn’t be truer when it comes to the professional truck driver. The commercial vehicle drivers who transport 80% of our goods across the country are, by and large, safety-minded professionals.

But they weren’t all born that way. It takes hard work and the right mentorship.

Driver trainers play an underappreciated role in the safety of the nation’s truck fleet. They set standards, they impart wisdom and they are responsible for ensuring that the next generation of professional drivers are just as safe and dedicated as the previous generation.

“I had a tough coach at Hill Bros., where he persisted in doing things his way. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing at first,” driver Nick Hill told FreightWaves. “It’s a good thing that I listened to him. He paid attention to every detail and everything that made me a better driver. Little tips for turning the wheel while backing up and keeping a close eye on the trailer tires – extremely thorough. [You] must be open-minded and willing to learn. Attitude is a big part of truck driver training.

Driver trainers, while important, are still only part of the professional driver development effort. Trainers must meet fleet standards of professionalism and follow prescribed training programs.

Career-minded professionals

Today’s drivers are looking for a career and this is reflected in the professionalism that comes across the most. This professionalism begins with the fleet itself – and how it chooses to display its own level of professionalism and impart the lessons necessary to equip the driver with the knowledge and support necessary to embark on a safe and productive career.

And these lessons don’t stop at the end of the training, but rather should be part of a continuous and evolving training program that covers the entire driver’s career. According to JJ Keller & Associates, the training program should cover topics meaningful to the driver and carrier, including professionalism, safety, defensive driving and regulatory requirements.

Defining professionalism

Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as having “the skill, good judgment, and polite demeanor expected of a person trained to do a job well.”

In trucking, this means the driver must maintain the image the company wishes to project. In short, the driver is the face of the company. Often truckers are the only company representatives a customer sees in person. The driver must maintain a standard of conduct, attitude, appearance and attention to customer service that keeps both the driver and the carrier in the best light. Some companies may require drivers to wear company clothing or, instead, issue a basic dress code.

But professionalism goes beyond that. Here are JJ Keller’s tips for displaying the proper professionalism:

  • To be on time. If you are going to be late for a delivery, call the customer safely and let them know the situation.
  • Follow customer rules/policies regarding deliveries, freight handling and documentation.
  • Be polite, use good manners.
  • Never take the frustrations out on the customer.
  • Never argue with the customer.
  • Wear clean clothes and maintain a neat appearance.
  • Know how to handle issues and/or freight issues.
  • Know the company’s services and/or products.

Professionalism on the road

While it’s true that drivers spend days, weeks, and even months at a stretch on the road, they’re never “untimed,” so to speak. Drivers and their vehicles ride billboards for their businesses and it requires an extra level of attention to ensure that the billboard displays the carrier’s preferred image for the customer.

A dirty or obviously damaged vehicle sends a message to the customer and the general public — a message that this carrier and/or driver doesn’t care about their image, and therefore, they may not care about you, the customer. Drivers should be encouraged to maintain a clean vehicle. Vehicle condition, both cleanliness and maintenance, should be part of all vehicle inspections, advises JJ Keller. This will ensure that a professional image is always displayed to the public.

Driver safety is also an important part of professionalism. According to the American Trucking Associations, more than 70% of accidents involving commercial vehicles are the fault of a four-wheeled vehicle, but the industry continues to suffer from negative stereotypes. Why? It has to do with the behaviors the public sees on a daily basis: speeding, ignoring general traffic rules, following too closely, changing lanes when unsure of doing so, or failing to signal while turning. , to name a few.

According to JJ Keller, the professional driver obeys the rules of the road, behaves appropriately, and understands the size of the vehicle and the general intimidating factor that comes with driving an 80,000 pound vehicle. In short, compliance specialists advise drivers to be aware of other drivers, vehicles and the general flow of traffic and to respond accordingly – in a safe and responsible manner.

Training to become a professional

Rick Turner, professional truck driver and moderator of the popular Rates & Lanes Facebook group, told FreightWaves that it was not uncommon years ago for trainers to treat drivers as something less than the professionals they were. are.

“Most, or I should say more than a few trainers at the time, felt that the trainee was their personal indentured servant,” Turner said. “Trainers would threaten and sometimes take off and leave their trainee at the truck stop.”

Fortunately, times have changed, but the trainer still has an outsized influence on the early career success of his trainees. Trainers are those who set an example for the driver to follow. Carriers must ensure that the trainers they employ will uphold the same values ​​and professionalism they expect of the trained driver.

However, the concept of continuing education is equally important. Like any other profession, skills can deteriorate without regular practice, tasks can be forgotten or the driver can “do it in their sleep”, which can lead to a lack of attention to the task at hand and increase the risk .

Continuing education

JJ Keller noted that ongoing training throughout a driver’s career will reinforce the professionalism required to perform the job safely.

New driver training should be offered to novice drivers as well as those new to the company so that specific company policies can be addressed. The veteran driver may also have a few bad habits or just need a boost in defensive driving skills. JJ Keller said it also ensures there is no misunderstanding between carrier and driver about compliance requirements and expectations or what the company expects of a professional driver.

For drivers who have been with the company for at least one year, training must also be provided. These drivers may simply need a review of regulatory requirements (including updates on any changes that may have occurred) and defensive driving techniques. It’s also a good time to reinforce good driving habits and review company expectations of professionalism in dealing with the public.

For drivers who need coaching and/or corrective action training, JJ Keller advised holding brief coaching sessions in addition to regular training. This instruction should be a one-on-one session and focus on a specific issue or question. Training should take place as soon as possible after the incident (accident, violation or complaint) that triggered the need for additional training.

To achieve the highest level of impact from a training program, JJ Keller said the carrier should have a monitoring program in place to measure the effectiveness of the instruction. Coaching and corrective action sessions must also be tied to the company’s disciplinary policy, which must be consistent with other company policies, state labor laws, and any contracts or agreements (such as union contracts) with employees that may apply.

Driver education programs involve a myriad of steps, but are essential elements in shaping the professional driver. Third-party providers such as JJ Keller & Associates help manage this process, ensuring policies are in place, procedures are followed, and trainers and trainees receive the training they need to excel in their jobs. .

Professional truck drivers are not born, but rather trained. From the moment a driver walks through the front door of the building, the carrier must ensure that the driver understands the rules of the road, company policies and the impact it will have on the business success.

As the visible face of the business, each driver holds the keys to business continuity with every customer they interact with. Carriers need to ensure that the driver is the face they want to be for their business.

Click for more articles from Brian Straight.

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