What's the magic bullet for building a great safety culture? According to Shawn R. Brown, Vice President of Safety at Cargo Transporters, Inc., there isn't just one. Instead, there are lots of small things, including (but not limited to) a program of ongoing driver training.
We recently interviewed Brown about what it takes to be a safe company, as well as the benefits and surprises of switching to mostly online training, and training drivers in the midst of a pandemic. A lightly edited version of our discussion follows.
Shawn R. Brown
Tell us a little about your history in the trucking industry.
I'm a third-generation member of one of the ownership families in our company. I've literally grown up around trucking. I've done everything from mowing the yards and and washing trucks to managing the dispatchers, customer service, operations and then moved over to safety in 2013.
Your company seems very bought into safety. How did you help build that buy-in?
Honestly, it’s one of the easiest jobs I have here. I don’t have to do a lot of convincing because it’s ingrained from the top down. From top to bottom, we believe that we need to have safety training, that we’re going to do safety training, and that it isn’t an option.
So for me, the challenge is less about buy-in and more about, what’s the best way to deliver training to our drivers? There are a couple of things that stand out about ITI. We like the depth of the training library and the ease of use, both for our drivers and on the back-office side. The back-office side is really great: we share weekly training reports with our fleet leaders (that's what we call dispatchers in our company) every week, telling each fleet who’s done what. That’s a huge plus.
The role of fleet leaders in your company is unique. Tell us more about that.
In our company, our drivers have essentially one point of contact: the fleet leader. They’re the driver's point person for dispatches, payroll questions, pretty much anything drivers need — we don’t do hand-offs. Our drivers have one fleet leader no matter where they deliver in the country.
Our intent is to field the relationship between the fleet leader and the driver. Overall, a driver's strongest relationship is going be with that day-to-day contact, the person who's with them through the ups and the downs. The fleet leaders are the ones responsible for getting their drivers to do this training, for giving them a nudge when needed and saying, “Hey, you’re a little behind in your safety training.”
You recently integrated PRO-TREAD training courses into your company app for drivers. What spurred that idea?
It was a natural fit and a natural progression. As we developed our app for drivers over the last few years, we integrated a ton of stuff. Our drivers can check their payroll information, get their dispatches, all kinds of information. We wanted to create one central point for our drivers where they can get all the information they need to do their job. It was a no-brainer to push the safety training through that, too.
It’s working really well. Whether drivers use our app, a computer or your Sentix mobile app to get the training, we just want to make it as easy for the drivers as possible. The majority of drivers use the app, but ITI’s platform still lends itself to drivers who aren’t as app-savvy. We just sit them down at a computer.
How did you persuade drivers to take the training?
It didn’t take much convincing. When you lay out the difference between attending an in-person class or having a mobile option that lets you take training whenever you want, it’s a pretty easy sale. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve made virtual meetings/live trainings an option, and we've found that most drivers still prefer to take the training on their own time.
Since we rolled out PRO-TREAD courses, 92% of our drivers have logged in and taken, on average, 2 lessons per month — 3400 lessons are in-progress or completed. It’s really great to see. It really shows their commitment to safety training. Drivers know it’s not an option at our company. It’s part of the driver’s job to take the training, and part of the fleet leader’s job to ensure that it gets done.
How did you handle driver training before you started working with ITI?
In the past, pre-COVID-19, pre-2020, our main delivery method of training was in-person classes. So you had the additional logistical challenge of getting it done and getting a driver in at the right time and date to attend a sit-down class. We have 500 drivers in the lower 48 states. As we’ve gotten bigger, it became more of a challenge to get the drivers in at these specific times.
That was the reason in early 2020 that we started looking at ITI. Then when the pandemic hit, we were so glad we were already looking at it. Since we could not hold in-person safety classes due to the pandemic, ITI helped us modify all our in-person classes and put our content in the delivery platform. Then, the drivers could take PRO-TREAD courses and our courses online from one platform.
What’s different about the switch to online training?
For one, the drivers like it a lot better because they can do it at their convenience, as opposed to having to plan their day around a 1:30pm class on Wednesday, for example. We polled some of our drivers about it, and they were very enthusiastic. Some folks remembered taking PRO-TREAD courses when we were a customer a few years ago, and they spoke positively about it.
For my team, online training has made driver onboarding easier. A driver is signed into the platform from day 1. We’ve incorporated some of the modules as part of the orientation materials. That’s in addition to the learning library that’s available to all drivers.
I really like the mastery-based approach to the PRO-TREAD courses. Drivers have to be engaged in the sessions in order to get credit. You can’t just hit play and let it go. You have to answer questions and be engaged in the modules.
We can also pull reports and data very quickly. I’ve got drivers who have taken over 20 classes on their own. We gave them the choice to pick out courses they wanted from the specified library, and some have taken every single class. That’s more training than we can ever give them in person.
Your fleet has impressively low turnover. How has training contributed to that?
Since the start of our fiscal year (beginning in October 2019), we’re running at 38.1% turnover. While you have an industry average of over 100%, we’re in general under 40%.
Is safety training the magic bullet? No, but it's an important factor. It’s also how we take care of our drivers. I feel that safety training is just as important as the newer model trucks, having quality equipment, and paying drivers well.
How are you using data to inform your decisions about training?
I look at data from other tools we use. This helps me determine what training I need to assign to drivers.
The drivers are also getting coached from their fleet leaders on the individual events they have that need to be addressed, and I can use training to reinforce that more broadly. For example, I look at data from our other systems, such as telematics, and choose training modules that reinforce certain behaviors.
I use trends that I’m seeing across the company and assign training to help address those behaviors. We also use incident-based training as part of our remedial driver training program.
You left ITI and came back. Can you tell us a little about the changes that happened during that time, and then what brought you back?
We left, not because we were dissatisfied with ITI's training, but because we went with an onboarding provider that also offered safety training. We didn't want to pay two vendors for the same thing. It sounded good on the surface, but the practical usage on the safety training side never fully met expectations. The onboarding was fine, but it didn’t work for safety training. The library wasn’t as deep, and the back-office reporting wasn't nearly as good as what ITI offers.
A couple of years went by, and we got to a point where we decided to leave that provider. At the same time, I wanted to revisit our safety training. We got reacquainted with ITI and it was just as good as I remembered, so here we are.
What's been the impact of COVID-19 on operations? On safety?
It’s impacted us in a huge way. We stopped doing in-person safety classes in March. We minimized physical contact in our offices as much as we can. It’s a fortuitous thing that we were already working with ITI as a way to deliver safety training prior to the pandemic. (Editor's Note: Usage of our free COVID Safety for Truck Drivers course remains very high for all clients.)
We went live on April 1, and we almost didn’t miss a beat with our training because we already had this in place. We would have struggled without it. I can’t have any in-person training right now, legally, but I can still deliver training through the ITI platform.
Training can't and shouldn’t stop just because your one method of delivering it has stopped due to a virus. My risk as a carrier is the same as it was on April 1. Just because I can’t train my drivers in person, doesn’t mean I don’t need to train them in some form or fashion. To be able to seamlessly continue my safety training to the drivers and still get my messages across is so valuable.
Yes, the virus impacted us. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still have trucks running, and we have to train these people. The virus is there, but training needs to continue.
Image source: Cargo Transporters, Inc