By John Kearney
Editor’s note: John Kearney is chief executive of Advanced Training Systems. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
When high school students consider their professional futures, do they think, “I want to be a truck driver”? Does the term “truck driver” inspire parents and school counselors to recommend the job to their children and students?
Right now, the answer is no, which means we’re missing an opportunity. Average income for a high-school graduate in the U.S. in 2016 was $30,800, not much above the poverty level for a family of four. Truck driving, a profession wide open to high school graduates, pays much better, even at the entry level. And there’s a demand for people in the profession: Right now, the U.S. needs about 50,000 more drivers than it has, according to the American Trucking Associations.
So why aren’t young people lining up for these jobs? One answer may be the term “truck driver,” which describes a job of yesteryear. Today, it might be better described as “transportation manager.” You don’t just jump behind the wheel of a truck to become a transportation manager; both in the U.S. and globally, it’s a highly regulated profession—for good reason.
First, it’s technically demanding; trucks increasingly employ high-end technology. Second, it’s vital. More than $700 billion of the nation’s freight bill is paid to trucking companies. The U.S. economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the nation. And there’s a public safety factor; crashes involving trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of greater than 10,000 pounds killed 4,761 people in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Like an airline pilot, a transportation manager is responsible not only for his or her life, but for the lives of others.
There are other similarities. Like pilots, drivers need training. To become licensed, they must take and pass a curriculum prescribed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which requires the mastery of federal regulations governing electronic logging devices, hours of service and out-of-service rules. They must pass a drug test and medical exam. And they must be familiar with the traffic and safety regulations of every state they pass through.
TRAINING AS A BRIDGE
It’s in the area of training that we may find the best bridge between the nation’s need for long-haul truckers, or transportation managers, and young people’s need for a worthwhile, well-paid occupation. A freshly trained driver can be hired as an apprentice for $50,000 per year or more – to start. And these jobs can serve as a steppingstone to hundreds of higher positions in the supply chain sector.
The old way to train a truck driver – now, thankfully, becoming obsolete – was to have the candidate obtain a learner’s permit by memorizing the appropriate laws and regulations and passing a written test. This would be followed by behind-the-wheel training. First would come the basics – starting, backing, turning, etc. – and then a period during which the new driver would be observed by an instructor until he or she was judged ready to drive alone.
It’s still necessary to learn the laws and regulations, and it’s still necessary to spend some time behind the wheel. What’s new – and, increasingly, essential – is simulator training. To provide accurate, spot-on training, simulators must provide up-to-date, superior technology to accurately replicate the dynamics of the truck, the road, the environment, motion and interaction with visual surroundings.
TECH AS SELLING POINT
Today’s young people spend their lives dealing with technology, and the simple awareness that becoming a truck driver/transportation manager involves this kind of training would help stimulate interest in the career path. It should also make young people feel comfortable with the training process. It’s an approach they already know.
That said, it’s important to remember that the simulator is not a toy or video game, but rather an extremely sophisticated training tool. Done properly, simulator training will foster the skills, decision-making and operational acumen required to safely pilot what could be a dangerous, 80,000-pound vehicle.
Learning to drive a big, modern truck is a lot like learning to fly a plane: A lot of technology is involved, the job requires both judgment and experience, and public safety is an important consideration. With a simulator, you can teach the skills to deal with, say, a patch of black ice or a drive-wheel blowout. You can’t do that with conventional behind-the-wheel training.
Consider Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, who in 2009 successfully landed a US Airways jet in the Hudson River, saving everyone aboard. He didn’t develop the skills necessary to deal with that situation by landing real planes in real rivers; simulation training, along with Sullenberger’s quick responses, made that possible. Simulation is mandatory for training pilots, and it should be for training truck drivers as well. Tomorrow’s drivers will demand it.
Editor’s note: John Kearney is chief executive of Advanced Training Systems, a truck simulator technology and engineering firm that provides adaptive training systems to improve training and create safer drivers.
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