Passing grade for truckers

Training employees in standards and safety practices at Arrow Transportation used to be a costly item on the trucking company’s balance sheet.

The Burnaby, B.C.-based firm, which transports a variety of products — ranging from wood chips to whales — for clients in Canada and the U.S, could spend

as much as $40,000 training 200 new employees, says Mitch Zulinick, general manager at Arrow.

“”We had our operating supervisors or managers at each of our branches carry out the training,”” he explains. “”A driver would come into the office, fill out application forms and a supervisor would take him through four or five hours of training.””

Zulinick says this one-to-one — or one-to-many — instructor-based training created a situation where there was little consistency in the education drivers were receiving across the company’s 30 branches, an important element in quality control.

“”Some of our guys were good at it, but some were not so good,”” says Zulinick.

Ensuring its 600 or so truck drivers are properly trained in company policies, safety guides and collision avoidance is paramount to Arrow, both from a performance perspective and in its efforts to minimize industry-related liability.

Enter Streamline Learning Systems Inc., a Kamloops, B.C.-based company that develops computer-based education tools. Streamline developed four kiosk-based training packages for Arrow that helped the company deliver consistent information to a diverse employee base. How diverse? Consider that some of the people who required training are lease operators who run their own businesses, while others were truck drivers, some of whom are functionally illiterate. It was one of the most challenging packages Streamline had developed to that point, says Mike Harlow, a principal with the company.

“”We created four fairly large training packages, which was unheard of in our industry,”” he says. “”Literacy levels were, on average, at about a grade eight level.””

Bandwidth limitations were another obstacle on the road to Arrow’s education goals. In many of the company’s remote offices, there was either a 56K dial-up connection or no Internet connection at all, so Streamline had to rule out the Internet as a delivery method. In the end, CD-ROM-based packages were created so the training could be installed on dedicated training machines at each division.

The full audio, video, and animated training could run on a 233 MHz computer with sound, so all infrastructure issues that would have restricted the use of audio and video were averted.

The four modules include:

• General training. Two hours of audio-visual training on company direction issues, personal safety, driving safely and HR programs.

• Traxis training. A one-hour training module on the Arrow onboard GPS tracking units, followed by a half-hour interactive hands-on training where drivers are able to practice making entries through the use of an on-screen simulated Traxis unit, with voice feedback.

• WHMIS. A 40-minute audio-visual training on the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, specifically designed for the hazards encountered in the trucking industry.

• Fibre unloading. Drivers receive a 30-minute video-based training on the fibre unloading procedures. Retention testing is included in the video as well as a final exam.

But with 600 drivers coming and going across Canada and south of the border, Arrow faced another daunting challenge: To ensure all drivers received both the training and a test to ensure they fully understood all of it.

“”Arrow has a fluid workforce and people are never in the same place at one time, so we created an e-mail based scheduling system,”” says Harlow.

The system works as follows: When new users or drivers join the company, the appropriate training package is selected for them and e-mails are sent out to their managers. Since the package was rolled out last July, more than 4,750 exams have been written by the drivers.

As for the learning curve for the drivers, most of whom have had limited exposure to technology, Zulinick says it was virtually non-existent.

“”This is far more like watching a video or playing a CD than dealing with a complicated software package,”” he says. “”You can stop, pause, go forward and backward. A lot of guys were anxious to get to their turn. I expected some culture shock, but we didn’t get any of that.””

Though Zulinick wouldn’t disclose the exact amount of money Arrow paid Streamline for its computer-based training, he says he’s certain the company is getting a positive return on its investment.

“”We didn’t do a formal ROI, but our expectation is we will return our investment on this within two years,”” he says. “”But if you look at the liability and consistency issues, you can’t put a price on that.””

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