Mentor programs are one of the most effective ways to retain new trainees in virtually all industries in which they are used. By pairing an experienced, professional driver with a newbie just out of driving school a company can continue the new driver’s training while also providing a level of supervisory experience for the seasoned driver.
Some mentor programs are more of a consultant at a distance program. These are still useful but not as helpful as actually having an experienced driver that can take the new hire around on the route or on the truck for a few days. Having that ability to be on the road, working for the company, is a very different experience than driving in school with the instructor right there to assist if there are any difficulties. This “breaking in” period can help the new driver learn more about actual on the road driving strategies plus it can also help the company in the long run.
The company, regardless of how large or how small it is, will really set a good example if they pair a top driver with a new hire for several reasons. Not all of these reasons are just about driving, which is something that they really do not cover at all at driver school. As a company owner you need to know that your new trucker understands several non-driving specific elements to the job including:
• Interactions with customers and loading dock workers – in a trucking mentor program where the new driver is on the truck with the experienced driver the new driver can learn how to work with customers and loading and unloading crews. Don’t assume that the individual knows how to treat these individuals with consideration and professionalism. All it takes is one driver with a bad attitude to lose a valuable client or cause delays at the dock in getting loaded or unloaded.
• Understanding policies – no new trucker is going to fully understand all of your company policies. An experienced driver can review company policies on everything from who and what can be in the truck to dress codes, how to call in sick or how to request days off. With this information the new driver is going to work better with office staff and come into the workplace with a full understanding of at least basic policies and procedures.
• Learning the ropes – mentors are a great way to provide practical advice and information to new drivers from a unique perspective. They are actual working drivers, they work for the same company, and, if you have a good mentorship program, they are someone that is already established as a professional, responsible and reliable source of information and help. If a new driver does have a question or concern he or she will be comfortable in talking to the mentor rather than trying to figure things out and perhaps making a bad decision.
However, the key for any mentorship program to work is the quality of the mentors that you select. Not everyone that is an experienced driver is a good mentor. Not everyone that asks to be a mentor should be a mentor because they may not have the attitude, understanding or commitment to the program to really make it valuable.
The key elements to look for in mentors for a program include:
• Outstanding driving record – this doesn’t mean a perfect driving record, but a record that clearly demonstrates that the driver is safe on the road and cares for the equipment he or she is in charge of.
• Follows the rules every time – mentors are the drivers that do a pre-trip inspection every time they leave the yard. They are the drivers that complete their electronic log books diligently and accurately. They are the drivers that pay attention to following the speed limit and don’t try to cut corners.
• Respects the company – the driver that is the mentor cannot be a person that has a beef with the company or that thinks that the company isn’t a fair employer. This will be a toxic environment for the new hire and may create real perception problems for your company over time.
• Leads a good lifestyle – you don’t want to pair a new trucker with a driver that is out every night on the road. While this may be a harder qualification to discuss it is important as you don’t want new drivers assuming that is the lifestyle.
• Knows the company policies – this goes along with following the rules, but you do want a mentor that actually knows and understands the policies and will present them to the new driver in a way that is meaningful and accurate.
• Wants to be a mentor – requiring someone to be a mentor that doesn’t want to do the job is always a recipe for disaster. Instead, encourage the drivers to try it and then respect their decision if they say no.
Have a short training course, perhaps even a paid day, to provide training to the mentors. This will help ensure that they understand their role and give them ideas of how to talk to new hires and what to discuss.