A case for communication simulation in driver, biz-owner education, training

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Updated Jul 24, 2021

Being able to comfortably gather and visit with like-minded people has taken on new significance for all of us. As such, I had a great day at the 2021 Walcott Truckers Jamboree at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop just more than a week ago now.  Hooking up in person with Todd Dills, listening to countless others, all while taking in the view of the hundreds of unique trucks on display with each owner’s own stories and history.

All of it gave me the feeling that I was seeing the work in trucking with a new perspective, invaluable to someone like me and useful for anyone, really. Whether in the OOIDA trailer or talking to retired owners sitting proudly with their equipment on display, shows like these offer the opportunity to visit with others who have spent their lives walking the walk and driving trucking forward.

Todd Dills, Brita Nowak and Gary BuchsAt the 2021 Walcott Truckers Jamboree: Gary Buchs (right), independent owner-operator Brita Nowak, and Overdrive Editor Todd DillsI shared with one owner how I have been providing personal private coaching to owner-operators and other small trucking companies and have been thinking about how to improve this by building a small team of retired owners who may be able to broaden the knowledge base. A few weeks ago, while following a LinkedIn discussion about recruitment and retention, I thought about the possibility that trucking companies may have ignored what could be our greatest untapped asset.

There are literally thousands of retired drivers and owners who’ve done it successfully. Many of them may well be willing to tackle a new role sharing knowledge. Companies should be willing to pay for this valuable resource.

Driver training regulations and standards are in the news coming out of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of course, as driver trainers are to begin the process of registering to certify themselves to fulfill the role. Any experienced pro driver knows there is much more to doing the work than getting a CDL or even driving. Owners with experience can share instructional information bolstered by the real-life classroom – all the things they’ve done correctly, all the mistakes they wish they never made.

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gary and marcia buchsGary Buchs and his wife, Marcia, during a recent patient-simulation exerciseIt’s not easy trying to teach someone new things from scratch. I have been fortunate to have a new part-time job after retiring from the road with the Illinois State College of Nursing as a simulation patient. I act out different diagnoses – dementia, heart attack, PTSD – to help teach nursing students how to treat and react to these situations.

It’s not easy to learn these kinds of things, either. At the end of each simulated diagnosis scenario, the students’ reactions can run the gamut of intensity – many share how fast their heart rate got in the process with the stress, even in this safe environment. No way are they really going hurt or kill a patient, yet the stakes are clear the more realistic I can be in my acting.

Talk about a different environment from trucking!

Yet I can envision the value that such interpersonal simulation training might provide here, too, whether with the wisdom of a retired owner or someone else.

If you’re a small fleet owner and in a position to make it happen, just helping new drivers learn how to effectively communicate with dispatch and customers might yield big benefits over the long haul. How about when a driver must deal with a mechanical breakdown? I’ve seen the struggles firsthand – drivers standing at the service counter not sure what to say about a problem they have never experienced.

Game out scenarios with them beforehand, though. You may just find they’ll thank you for the preparation when the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan out on the road.

For the owner-operator independents among you, getting business administrative tasks kickstarted is not as easy as so many trucking players want to believe. Too many hit the truck-ownership road before getting Truck Business 101 firmly under grasp.

While visiting with the representatives of the National Association of Independent Truckers at Walcott about their services, I learned the association truly struggled to understand why options like their telehealth plans, nearly free for NAIT members, just haven’t been catching on or much utilized. I offered the possibility that it could as simple as many not knowing how to use these services. No one’s really comfortable with something they’ve had no experience with, and when it comes to our health, any discomfort might be likely to compound in a remote-connection situation given the intensely personal nature of the exchange.

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If, beforehand, a company rep could be available to walk a member through the basic steps and maybe game out/practice a telehealth call, increasing comfort and use of the service could follow.

I have used this formula when helping the owners I work with get bookkeeping started – or restarted like an exhausted set of hours, as the case may be. Both the owner and I learn something with each of these experiences, often enough. Just this last week, I was showing an owner my own admittedly quite simple, cloud-based spreadsheet model for bookkeeping when he noted past purchase of two other dedicated bookkeeping programs a couple of years ago. At first, I felt a little intimidated knowing this, yet as we together viewed my program, and I had the owner talk through his settlement documents and invoices, I typed in the entries so the owner could see what was happening and could focus on observing the processes.

We entered all the month of June in about an hour as the truck owner asked questions, and before long it was clear a new level of understanding had been achieved. The difference maker wasn’t the particular bookkeeping program as much as it was the comfort level in observation and asking questions here. The hands-on togetherness, the absence of judgment.

With experience, too we build a greater level of trust in each other. That should pay dividends in the form of questions asked and answered, and new insights into the trucking business, well into the future.

Readers can find plenty avenues for information about the ins and outs of running an owner-operator business in the updated 2021 edition of Overdrive’s Partners in Business manual for owner-operators and prospective owner-ops, produced with ATBS and sponsored by TBS Factoring Service. It's available for download via the link.