It ain't pretty being easy... (soopageek) wrote,
It ain't pretty being easy...

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. 

Tags: truckgeek
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