Superior Selection or Excellent OTR Training?

May 8, 2014 | Articles

Do you build a high performing team through superior selection or excellent OTR training? Remember the old proverb: you can teach a squirrel to fly but you’re better off starting with an eagle?

There’s truth there, but there aren’t as many eagles flying around as there once were, so perhaps we should consider better training. That said, it’s still wise to invest in aeries.

Analogies aside, the challenge you face is how to how to build and maintain a motivated team of professional drivers, despite the headwinds of the dreaded driver shortage.

Dr. Peter Cappelli, Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, authored a great fact-filled book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs. He finds that even in times of high unemployment, companies across dissimilar industries can’t seem to find capable employees. They insist applicants aren’t qualified; schools aren’t adequate; or the government isn’t letting in enough skilled immigrants. What we have is a woe-is-me mindset and driver-hungry carriers are convinced that driver recruitment is like hunting for polar bears in Arizona.

Training Gap

Capelli asserts the problem is a combination of inflated expectations and a training gap. He points out that everyone is looking for applicants who can hit the ground running. Here’s how companies think:
1. With high unemployment, we should be able to get what we want (no training required);
2. We can save money by cutting training or by delaying purchase of updated materials;
3. If we train new employees, they’ll just leave for greener pastures, taking our investment with them.

Further, some applicant-screening software programs have corrupted the hiring process by defining the wrong qualifications as must-haves. This and the ubiquitous stories of a driver shortage have heightened the impression that there aren’t enough people with the right stuff.

Based on Dr. Cappelli’s reasoning, I would argue that there are enough CDL drivers with the right qualities (when you get serious about competing for them), but you need to define what’s needed versus what’s wanted. He tells the story of a temp who’s doing a great job. The employer can’t seem to fill the job she’s covering. Someone asks, “Why not hire her?” The answer: “She’s not qualified.” Huh?

Sure, driver applicants have to meet the minimums: CDL, 21, medically qualified, etc. And they should have key traits like responsibility, dependability, compliance and risk aversion, which are vital to safety, productivity and good customer service. In short, you should hire drivers for the characteristics that cannot be taught. Know-how and skills can be taught.
When did we start to believe that drivers would be finished from day one; that they’d assimilate our values without having a structured process to help them? When did we convert driver training to an exercise in CYA/check-the-box, instead of truly giving them the knowledge and skills needed to safely and efficiently perform the job?

Assess For Personal Qualities

The right model is to first find drivers who have the minimums (table stakes), but also assess for the personal qualities that make them safe dependable drivers. Then, provide effective, up-to-date training programs to take it from there.

Many may believe that they’re already doing this, so let me be more specific.
• If you require applicants to be 23 years old, why not 22? Then provide exceptional training.
• If you require two years of experience, why not one? Excellent training can supplement.
• If you require unique experience, like tankers, why not consider dry van drivers and then teach them tanker-specific skills and knowledge?

Dr. Cappelli cites Con-way as a sparkling example of taking initiative to solve the driver conundrum through training. In 18 months they graduated 440 new drivers and held onto 98 percent of them!
Hire for the things you can’t change: minimum qualifications and characteristics that resist change such as values and personality. Then provide meaningful professional safe driver training. Not a sheep dip. Not CYA, but something that leads to real learning and new behaviors.
You can’t expect old, feeble training materials that didn’t cut it ten years ago to magically begin to work today. Times change and training should change with the times. Half the battle is keeping drivers engaged and interested. If your training can’t bridge the gap, it’s time to look for better training materials.

Aeries are nests where baby eagles are nurtured until they’re self-sufficient and can fly on their own. The best aeries produce the best eagles. Nurture your drivers with better training.

Mark G. Gardner
Chief Executive Officer
Avatar Management Services, Inc
Macedonia, OH

About the Author


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