In the past few years, the march of technology has entered the trucking industry, with a sudden influx of vendors offering products powered by big data and machine learning. Here’s how data and technology can tackle driver training moving forward.
We live in a world defined by data. Everywhere you look, you see stories about how AI, machine learning, algorithms, and real-time analytics are used.
That’s been a growing trend since the infamous story of Target’s algorithm determining which of its customers were pregnant back in 2012.
In the past few years, the march of technology has entered the trucking industry, with a sudden influx of vendors offering products powered by big data and machine learning. ECMs, ELDs, trailer sensors, and a variety of other internet-of-things devices collect a lot of data, and the prevalence of good mobile service makes it easy for that data to be saved to the ‘Cloud.’
As a result, there’s a lot of information being compiled, and a variety of ways to parse, analyze, and act on the insights being revealed by that data. In the battle to improve safety and operating efficiency, the trucking industry has increasingly powerful weapons.
That is, except for one area of business – driver training. Instead, most fleets are continuing to use the same tools as they did 20 years (or longer) ago to track training information.
As someone who spends a lot of time talking to trucking companies, and exploring their different programs through Best Fleets to Drive For, it always surprises me when I see that contrast. Fleets may have all the latest tech on their trucks and many modern systems to assist with safety, but in this one area very few have changed their processes in the past decades.
Driver training today
Today’s driver training departments regularly use a range of different tools to deliver content (classroom, online, simulators) but the tracking of that activity still routinely relies on paper. For example:
- Drivers attend a training session or safety meeting with a sign-in sheet to prove they were there
- In-cab trainers using a paper checklist to itemize the skills demonstrated during the road test
- Drivers sign acknowledgements to confirm they completed assigned activities
All of these are then commonly stored in a “driver file” in a physical filing cabinet somewhere in the terminal.
In some cases, I do see attendance at meetings and completion of simulator sessions saved in an Excel file, but that’s uncommon. That said, the file is often kept on one specific PC so it’s not much different from a paper file in a physical cabinet.
This kind of activity tracking has many deficiencies.
Problems with paper
The problem with paper is that it’s fragile, unreliable, and easy to lose. It can’t easily be shared, unless it’s copied or scanned (which is also rare) so you need to have the physical item to get the value out of it. If there are multiple terminals, then paper files could be spread across the country with no easy way to consolidate them.
All of those are well-known weaknesses of paper-based tracking, but there’s another huge gap that really highlights how antiquated this approach is – it doesn’t support continuous training improvement.
With paper files or Excel documents, you can’t look at the driver training program as a whole and see what is working or what needs to improve. You can’t correlate training activities to on-road performance because there’s effectively no actionable data being collected on the training.
In other areas of the business, fleets are collecting data to see in fine detail which drivers have the best fuel efficiency, speed management, lane keeping, braking habits, and plenty more. They can combine different data points to create risk profiles for drivers, allowing them to focus trainer efforts where it can be most effective. They can see where all their equipment is at any given time and analyze patterns to improve efficiency.
Against all that, tracking training activity with a stack of papers is bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Digging into training data
There are ways to capture that data in online systems and use it to help improve the driver development program and overall risk profile of the fleet. At CarriersEdge, we’ve been working on adding activity tracking and data analysis tools into our system for a few years now, and some of our partners have added similar features as well. Here are some ways to start using those tools to capture more training data online and make good use of it afterwards.
For classroom events like orientation or quarterly meetings, have a standardized online test at the end to validate that the learning objectives were met. The test doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to test the material covered during the session. The best ones I’ve seen require people to look up answers in their driver handbooks or reference guides, providing some extra engagement. There are some immediate benefits to doing this:
- It shows you the comprehension level from the session and who may need more help
- It lets you measure how well you’re delivering the content (if everyone gets the same questions wrong, maybe the content needs revisiting)
- If you have multiple instructors delivering the content (and all students take the same online test), it makes it easy to see which instructors are most effective in their delivery.
Tracking of classroom and practical activities
Classroom and practical training can be tracked online as well, so students can be tied to events which are then tied to specific instructors. With even basic registration management, you can easily quantify which drivers are most diligent about attending and which aren’t. Much like the standardized tests, you can also track results by instructor to see who’s having the best effect on students.
With registration data online, you never need to worry about losing it. Some additional benefits:
- It puts all training related activities in one place – classroom, practical, and online are all part of the same driver profile, removing the need to hunt down files from multiple sources.
- It lets you more easily see what the training program looks like from the driver’s perspective. When data is captured in different systems, it’s hard to get a real picture of what drivers are actually doing. When it’s all in one place, fewer things get missed.
Those are two simple ways to get started, but even just doing those opens up a bunch of opportunities. More data to analyze, more insights into program effectiveness, and more ability to tie that into performance data from other systems for an even clearer picture of what’s happening in the fleet.
Other parts of the fleet, and even other safety functions, have benefitted greatly from online systems that track and analyze data continuously. Driver training doesn’t have to be left out of that. It’s time to put away the knife and pull out the pistol.
Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association.
By Mark Murrell
The audit is a key tool to know the overall status and provide the analysis, the assessment, the advice, the suggestions and the actions to take in order to cut costs and increase the efficiency and efficacy of the fleet. We propose the following fleet management audit.