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how one becomes a trucker - part 2, company sponsored training
With the back-story firmly in place, how does training work exactly?  While I can't speak for other companies, I can tell you from my experiences both as a new driver for this company as well as my current role as a trainer.  Werner's training program lasts anywhere from 70 to 275 hours of driving time while on the truck of a company sanctioned trainer.  The length of time is dependent on the new driver's amount of experience.  With enough experience, a driver may not be required to have any training period.  Drivers fresh out of trucking school obviously have the 275 hour bid to do.  Logging 275 hours of driving works out to about 8 weeks of training.  During this time, the trainee receives a weekly stipend, a pittance of $250/week.  In compensation for his tutelage, the trainer receives payment for all miles driven at whatever his current mileage rate may be.

I'm not bashful, I'll give you some numbers.  I work at a rate of $0.33/mile.  The average solo driver runs about 2000-2500 miles per week.  When I have a new student, we run at about this rate, since he does the bulk of the driving and I sit in the passenger seat white-knuckling the door handle.  Students are also on a "curfew" for the first 14 days, they are not permitted to drive between the hours of midnight and 6am. Later as his skills progress and I am comfortable leaving him to drive without my constant attention, dispatch will begin to give us loads which can only be completed by a two-man team.  The truck literally rolls 24 hours a day, one person driving, one person sleeping.  It is during these weeks when covering 5000-6000 miles is not unheard-of.  Those of you that already pulled out calculators at the beginning of this paragraph now have an idea of the kind of numbers I can pull down on a weekly basis.  There's an elite group of eager-go-getter trainers who the rest of us call "the 90 club"; trainers making in excess of $90,000/year.  I'm not that ambitious, or energetic.

I'm sure every trainer has their own idea of their role as trainer.  I view mine as more of a guide than anything.  The trainee already possesses a CDL and has been declared competent and able to operate a semi tractor-trailer.  My job is to strengthen those skills and to re-program a lot of the things they teach you in trucking school (I'll touch on this more in a bit).  It's also my job to ease them into the lifestyle of trucking, provide them time-managment skills, route/trip planning skills, and the various ins and outs of every day life in truckstops, on the road, and with customers.  It's the whole ball of wax that is my job.

I typically begin with getting them behind the wheel and on open road.  If there is a lot of city/rural two-lane driving to be done right off the bat, I will typically do that for the first few days and only permit them to drive on the highway.  I only make them responsible for the basic task of driving and a couple rudimentary Qualcomm messages related to logging their duty status (Werner utilizes an electronic method of logging rather than the standard paper logs).  For the first few days this is all they do, pretty much.  Usually on the first or second day, I give them an opportunity to do "a 45".  I allow them to go at it for about 30-45 minutes with no instruction from me.  We're talking about 30-45 minutes for a single backing procedure because they almost never can do it the first time.  I just watch and get an idea of how they approach the task and how they apply the knowledge they gained from their trucking school.  I always tell them I don't expect them to be able to do it, so it's no big deal if they can't. 

Usually, I can talk them into the hole after I tire of watching them struggle wth it, sometimes I can't.  Either way, I then switch with them and show them the setup and the manuever from start to finish.  The problem is that trucking schools do a disservice to their students in the way they teach the 45.  The schools use the same truck or set of trucks for every student, every time.  In addition to this, you have a LOT more room in front of you than you do in the "real world" of trailer yards, truckstops and factory/warehouse docks.  The schools teach them how to set up and execute the 45 degree backing manuever by teaching them to memorize a set of instructions that apply only to the truck they are learning on and in which they will take their DOT test.  They usually go something like this:

1) Wait until some part of the truck is lined up with the parking space (the door, the drive axle, whatever)
2) Turn the wheel all the way to the right and hold it until the truck is at "X" degree angle with "the hole" (usually this is when the truck is facing away from the hole, but in-line with it, or roughly parallel).  Then turn the wheel all the way to the left until it is at "X" angle (usually facing back the original direction).  Basically, it's a big serpentine or "S" move.  A particularly evil variant of this practice is one in which they "hold" the direction of steer for certain numbers of sceonds and/or turn the wheel a certain number of revolutions (1, 1.5, 2).
3) Back using some mark on the trailer, usually the landing gear in the spot mirror, as a guide.  Let off the steering in increments so the truck follows the trailer.  The trailer will slip right into the hole every time.

Right now, anyone reading this who has been through trucking school is shaking their head with understanding, regardless of the particular variant they were taught.

This works because they use the same trailer, with the same truck, with the same fifth-wheel and tandem settings every time in an empty lot with plenty of room for manuevering.  While it enables the person to get their CDL, it has no practical application in the real world where there are a variety of trucks, pulling varieties of trailers, loaded with varying weights which require different fifth-wheel and tandem settings in locales filled with other trucks, trailers, parked cars, and bright yellow poles that like to pop out of the asphalt for no reason.  It doesn't teach the person anything about the mechanics of the manuever.  It took me a LONG TIME to shake off the exact same mentality, because it was how I was taught in trucking school.  This is what I meant above by re-programming the trainee.  What trucking schools are in the business of doing is getting your money and getting you a CDL, it's not always practical or best.

Right now, anyone reading this who is thinking about going to trucking school is probably worried.

New drivers find out really quick that "textbook" driving rules are not always practical in application, nor are the mechanics of manuevering they were taught.  The fact is, you really don't have a choice and what is important is obtaining your CDL and getting the job.  The rest can hopefully be corrected with some company sponsored training or figured-out on one's own.  So don't fret, it's not a big deal.  You'll adjust in time.

So I do a lot of re-programming from what is taught in the trucking school.  One can set up a truck in a 45 degree angle without all that steering malarkey and usually there isn't enough space to do a full S-move anyway.  The really funny thing is, while most schools teach that forward S-move as a setup manuever, they don't ever teach it as a manuever for doing pull-ups.  Pull-up is a driver term for fixing one's backing manuever by doing some sort of forward shenanigans. Almost always, a pull-up involves an S-move of some degree.  I usually tell my trainee "You must learn power of S-move, grass-hoppa!" and then show it to them.  Invariably, they act like it's the most amazing thing in the world they have ever seen when, sadly, it should've been taught to them properly.  The reason it isn't is the other big fault I have with trucking schools and the manner in which they prep their students, although in this case, the larger problem lies in the nature of the DOT test.  In the DOT test, you are docked scoring points for the number of pull-ups you use when performing your 45.  Naturally, the trucking schools ingrain this pattern of thought into their students, so they have this misguided notion that pull-ups are evil things.  In the real world, all that matters is that you get the job done, without hitting anything.  Fewer pull-ups mean you will get it done quicker, but the end result is the same.

So I teach my students how to stick the trailer into the hole then how to fix it with pull-ups.  In time, long after they have been on their own, they will refine and hone their skill so that they can perform a 45 in one move, but until that time, they'll be able to function with the knoweldge of how to fix it when they can't.  Hell, I still can't do a 45 in one move most of the time and I've been at this for over two years.

Another trucking school mentality that has to be broken is the concept that every turn can be made legally, when nothing could be further from the truth.  Trucking schools, due to the guidelines set forth by the DOT, discourage the practice of button-hooking.  While I agree it should be avoided and not a common practice in every single turn made (as I've witnessed countless drivers do just because they want to do the turn FAST), there are times when it is necessary.  Button-hooking, for those of you wondering, is the practice of swinging the truck in the opposite direction prior to intitating a turn in the other direction.  It's sometimes not a very large swing, but it's just enough to send the trailer tandems on enough of a tangent in the opposite direction that they will clear whatever is along the inside edge of your turn (curb, guardrail, small children, whatever).  The DOT frowns on button-hooking because you are leaving one travel lane for another and depending on the amount of button-hooking you do, you are occupying at least one additional lane of traffic.  On a two-lane road, this would mean oncoming traffic.  But sometimes you are faced with a situation where a 'hook is the only option you have.  When you've been programmed that 'hooking isn't an option, then it isn't considered when initiating a particularly tight turn.

The re-programming of button-hooking is only a small part of what is general "turn preparation" with which most new drivers haven't had enough real world experience.  Taking a truck through a turn, especially in urban scenarios is a multiple-process task involving down-shifting/braking while making a snap assessment of the intersection to determine what needs to be done and then executing the manuever, all simultaneously and in one fluid motion.  This is why I don't let new trainees drive much off-highway for the first few days, they need a chance to get a handle on their ability to shift and perform the basic mechanics of driving with a minimized degree of concentration so they can give attention to the details of a turn.  Sure they get some basic turning practice pulling into truckstops and rest areas the first few days, but this is not the same as, say, navigating the city streets of downtown Chicago.

All together, it takes a good two to three weeks for me to get the average student at a level of confidence, both for me and for them, in their basic driving skills so that I'm not watching them like a hawk the entire time they are driving.  Along the way, I've begun to sow the seeds of other things, like some basic trip information, routing, and Qualcomm usage. But now it's time to take them to intermediate and advanced levels now that the task of driving is starting to become second-nature.  Their mind is free to process this information now that it isn't tied-up in worry about their ability to drive.  Typically, this stage of training only lasts about a week, as the information can be given rather quickly and reinforced daily.  Now, with two or three weeks left to go, I begin unleashing them from me.  They run the truck and I just drive when they want/need me.  They handle all of the aspects of the load, from interpreting the trip information, to getting us there and interacting with the customer.  If for some reason they can't reach this final stage and shake their dependence of me, then I begin to consider what final things I can do to drive it home.  And if they still can't get it, I begin to wonder about my final assessment when their training is over.  I'm not comfortable with the idea of turning someone loose with my stamp of approval if they 1) can't do the job on their own or 2) don't at least know the appropriate means of finding out the proper thing to do when they encounter some obstacle.  Not only have I set them up for failure, but it's a reflection on my ability as a trainer. 


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So I teach my students how to stick the trailer into the hole then how to fix it with pull-ups.

You sure you're teaching trucking???

Trucker jargon can be dee-lish,no?

Just a curious question. What kind of training did YOU have to go through to become a trainer? I know when stormodacentury was thinking about driving, we were looking at the idea of him becoming a trainer after the "training" period for new drivers.

With Werner, "Train the Trainer" was a two-day class conducted in Omaha. I personally didn't get much from it since I have loads of training experience from my days as a GM in restaurants... but it's mostly training techniques, inter-personal sensitivity training like sexual harassment, and some practical ideas for ways to approach teaching certain aspects of the profession, with particular respect to manuevering skills. Finally it gave us information that we needed to eprform our job (additional things we would need to do on the Qualcomm, lodging procedures for the student when on hometime, etc). All in all fairly painless and easy. Certainly, not a big deal, nor time consuming.

ok, i now have an idea of the "raw profit" figures. now, don't most truckers have to pay out of pocket for expenses like diesel and maintenance, and doesn't that significantly impact your bottom line? or is that handled by some trucking companies and not others? i've always heard truckers say that the promised income is not what they thought it would be because of these sorts of concerns.

In the case of a company driver, all expenses related to the truck are covered by the company. There are occasions where I have to cough up money on-the-spot for something lie power steering fluid or a toll payment, but I'm always reimbursed. My only expenses are the cost of living on the road, like eating-out, laundry, etc. The IRS allows commercial, OTR drivers $41 per day away from home in tax write-offs without proof of receipt. If for some reason my expenses exceeded $41/day AND I had the receipts to prove it, I could write it off as well.

My first year of driving I hade an $11,000 deduction for expenses. My first year, I made about $10,000 more in one yar that I had made as a GM toiling in restaurants. Essentially, I made 10k more but got taxed like I made my old salary. And c'mond, there's no way I spend $41/day out here. That's carzy.

Granted, I'm lucky. I found an account where, as a new driver, I'm rather well compensated. New drivers with zilch for experience get shit-pay starting out and THAT makes the first year or so tough. hockeyfag, who drove for a year before hanging it up, has told me on a couple of occasions that if he had found some sort of deal like the one I've found, he'd probably still be doing it. In addition to my .33/mile rate, I also have a $700/wk minimum guarantee, although since I've begun training, the idea of a guarantee is kind of a moot concept. I'm always in excess of it. A lot of new drivers start out making in the neighborhood of .25-.27 per mile, which still isn't shabby, but it ain't spectacular either. tundraguy1979 found a drop really similar to mine, working for a trucking company which had a dedicated account with Toyota near his home. He works in about a 600 miles radius from home, has a modest mileage rate AND a $800/wk guarantee on top of it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, one has to have a little bit of luck and patience with finding their niche in this business, whether they find it right off the bat or spend some time searching. I had no idea about ANY of this when I started, so I was lucky... or I might've stopped doing this after the first year myself.

So how much does the average driver make starting your or after a year or whatever. I'm hearing widely varying figures. JB Hunt's website


says you start at 34c/mile which seems high so is there a catch? One person said JB Hunt is a bad co. to work for. Why? How do you pick a good company?

I'm not really qualified to speak on J.B. Hunt as I've never worked for them. You will find in this business that every truck driver has an opinion, most of them cranky, and there are lots of job-hoppers because they're never satisfied. They're the type of folks who always feel thankless and that they're worth more than the crap they put up with at whatever job they are currently working. You know these types, they exist in every industry, but there seems to be a disproportionate number of them that are truck drivers, so take the bad-mouthing of this or that company with a grain of salt.

I would agree that 34cpm for a new driver does seem kind of high, although not unheard-of. As mentioned previously, I essentially began at 35cpm, due to the dedicated account. I don't think JB recruits a high number of "fresh-out-of-school" drivers. Their angle is to let some of the other companies deal with them the first 6 months then lure them away with the higher pay rate. This is why you see JB Hunt recruiters in truckstops, but none of the other big boys.

As for an average expectation, a new driver can expect to gross about 30k his first year. I made considerably more than that my first year, but as I said, I was very fortunate to have found the account on which I work.

As for choosing a good company, I guess it depends on your needs. Local, independently owned outfits will be more personal but usually have older equipment. bustednut can attest to the travails of working for a small outfit and the quality of equipment which breaks-down frequently and are horribly maintained in the interest of "profit". Larger companies tend to be actively seeking new customers, and customers like new equipment. The average age of equipment in my company is under 5 years old and it is meticulously maintained so that it can be re-sold when upgrading equipment. Other things to consider when choosing a company to work for are things like their hometime policy.

As a new driver, you're not going to have a lot of "choice" unless you have an "in" somewhere already. These days, only the large trucking outfits hire brand-spanking-new drivers. Essentially, you're looking at a pool of maybe a dozen companies to work for, if that. My suggestion is that if you make the decision to become a trucker is get whatever you can find and stick with it for a year... get your experience, THEN consider if it is the place for you. If not, then begin looking elsewhere. With a year's experience under your belt for one company and a good driving record, the trucking world will be your oyster.

Incidentally, I can always provide a reference for you with my company. You get the reference of a company-approved trainer, I make some referral cash. Not a bad trade. My company does "pre-hiring" as well. You'd be assured of your job before you ever started trucking school. On top of all that, I could probably arrange to be your trainer once you got here. ;-)

Food for thought.

Sweet, thanks for the offer of referral! JB Hunt says they govern the max speed at 62 MPH, is that a bad thing?

Werner is governed at 65mph. JB is one of the few companies I can actually pass on the freeway. Governors have their upsides and downsides. Downside obviously, is that in the western states when the speed limit goes up to 75mph, you can't make use of it. The upside is, you're won't to be tempted to drive 75mph in OTHER states you shouldn't. I have a horrible lead foot that likes to be on the floor ;-), so while I curse it when I'm driving across Nevada or Utah, I know it has kept me from getting tickets on the other side of the Mississippi :)

I live in Seattle but Werner has no terminal here. Would I still be able to work for Werner or would I have to move?

You can live anywhere in the U.S. or Canada and work for Werner... they're in the top 5 largest trucking companies in the country... they're everywhere. Proximity to a terminal is of no consequence. The closest terminal to where I live is over three hours away.

Incidentally, there is a terminal in Portland.

there's a traffic light on the corner up two streets from where
we live thats knocked down about 3 times a year (don't ask me why
they don't put it back some) from people refusing to button hook
on the good side it was roads i trained on so that took care of
that aspect of it anyway, as for the backing it was like they read
this post and taught exactly like how you said

Another excellent post. Thanks.

You sound like a really good trainer, based on this and those frightening "Jason" posts!

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