SNBC puts newly hired drivers through regimented training program
Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
Drivers call it some of the most realistic and demanding training in the tank truck industry. It is a regimented two-week program that quickly separates real tank truck drivers from the wannabees.
The program almost could be called a boot camp for drivers and was developed by Schneider National Bulk Carriers (SNBC) for new hires and drivers already working for the carrier that need intensive retraining. Management believes the program is giving the company a better group of drivers.
“This program certainly washes out more candidates in our driver hiring program, but it eliminates them for the right reasons,” says Stephen F Torres, SNBC safety director. “We think we are better able to avoid the marginal drivers that don't quite have the skills and aptitude for today's driving environment. We also have an easier time identifying drivers that lack the confidence to work safely around tank trucks and hazardous materials. These are critical factors even though we're only hiring experienced truck drivers right now.
“Our training program is getting high marks from the drivers that have gone through it. They praise it as one of the best in the industry. While the training is tough, they say it is also more detailed. It's not just talk from an instructor. We have a lot of hands on practice with simulators where drivers can make mistakes without risk of injury or causing damage to equipment and the environment.”
SNBC's program reached a new and even tougher level when the tank truck carrier opened a new training center in July in Reserve, Louisiana. At 11,000 square feet, it is the largest of four training centers in the SNBC system. The others are in Houston, Texas; Gary, Indiana; and Coraopolis, Pennsylvania.
The Reserve facility also is the most elaborate and challenging of the four training centers. It occupies what had been a partially used maintenance building at Schneider's Reserve complex. Carl Hebert had the vision for the Reserve facility, which was assembled over approximately 18 months. He was assisted by other training team members Elroy Hoover and Roland McGee.
They built most of the training simulators that are used in the program. “Simulators are an important part of our training program,” Torres says. “Due to increased security and other issues, we're not able to do as much hands-on training at customer facilities as in the past. The next best option was to develop our own training simulators. Most of our simulator equipment was relatively easy to build and other fleets could do the same thing.”
The SNBC training team assembled what is essentially a trailer loading/unloading site complete with storage tanks, piping, and valves. Tractors and tank trailers from the SNBC fleet are part of the loading/unloading simulator scenario.
“We worked with a customer to ensure that we had accurate signage and piping for the storage tanks,” Torres says. “Instructors can modify the piping and storage tank connections to create a wide range of scenarios and challenges for the students.”
The only truly high-tech training system at the Reserve facility is a driving simulator. It is in a training trailer that also provides a classroom that can seat up to 20 students. This is the only air-conditioned area in the Reserve training facility.
While the building provides protection from the rain, students definitely feel southern Louisiana's hot, humid summers. Large fans remove truck exhaust fumes when engines are running during product pumping exercises, but they don't do much to moderate the temperature.
“This is another reason we can provide very realistic training,” Torres says. “Students must wear appropriate protective equipment during the training exercises, and they have to learn to be aware of heat issues and other health concerns. They have to know how to stay hydrated and when to take breaks.”
Drivers go through the simulator portion of the two-week training program in class groups of three. “Small class size means we can give very individualized instruction to each student,” Torres says. “Our instructors also follow a uniform curriculum throughout the SNBC system. All of that helps ensure a high degree of work readiness at the end of the initial training.”
A new class starts each week. Students can be newly hired drivers or those being sent through for retraining. Drivers come to the Reserve training facility from throughout the SNBC system.
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