Surviving Life With Your CDL Trainer

On-the-job Training for Truck Drivers

In order to make up for CDL schools that give drivers only the bare minimum they need to pass their CDL test to get their commercial driver's license, many entry level driving jobs start out with a few weeks to a few months of on-the-job training.

This training consists of driving with a more experienced driver. The two drivers will be living together in the cab of a semi-truck. That's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months depending on the company.

The training is designed to help new drivers get some practical experience behind the wheel with close supervision. Most companies require the trainer to sit in the passenger seat and observe the new driver for the first few days at least. But everyone makes more money once the two drivers are operating as a team. There really is no motivation for anyone, not the student, trainer, or company for the "observation" phase to last any longer than is necessary.

Once they are driving as a team, the more experienced driver will be sleeping most of the time the new driver is driving. But they are in the truck and available to help if there is a problem.

this on-the-job training phase is the hardest for many people. If you've ever had a roommate (like in college) that someone else picked out for you, that's what it's like. Some trainers and students become best friends and decide to remain as a team after the training is over. More often both end up telling horror stories about the other.

One thing that's harder than the college dorm room is that the truck is much smaller, and you are putting two grown men in a space the size of a walk-in closet. (Usually, sometimes two grown women, and at least one company has decided that two students is more profitable than one... so try 3 adults there!)

The number one biggest complaint from students? Body odor. Usually followed by a messy or cluttered truck. And, "my trainer yells at me."

The biggest complaint from trainers? "He thinks he knows everything already." and/or "He's ruining my transmission with his lousy shifting."

Your Trainer May Not Turn Out Like You Hoped...

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Be Prepared to Suck it Up

You may not like your trainer, in fact you probably won't like your trainer. He is probably going to be:

  • smoker/non-smoker (whichever you aren't)
  • fat
  • smelly
  • disorganized
  • arrogant
  • and treats you like an idiot even though you are 56 and he's only 23.

Truck driving trainers have to meet the company standards to be a trainer. That may mean 6 months experience with the company, a certain percentage of on-time loads, and little else.

Personal grooming always seems to be the first complaint most student drivers have about their trainers. The fact of life is that when you are that close to another human being 24 hours a day, in a confined space, someone's going to smell bad from time to time. It can't really be helped. Stress or work may cause your trainer to sweat more and smell bad. Missing a shower for a day or more definitely won't help things. Complaining about it won't do much either.

You can usually request a trainer who is a smoker or a non-smoker depending on your preference. When I started driving most truckers smoked, it's not such a high percentage anymore. But you may have to wait longer if you have a preference. The same is true if you are a female student and want a female trainer. (In that case, I would recommend you wait for a female trainer. It can avoid sexual harassment and other problems that only add to what is already a difficult situation.)

The vast majority of truckers are overweight. It is often a symptom of experience in trucking. You should consider what you might look like after 10 or 20 years of eating in truck stops. The other alternative is probably to be "trained" by someone who has not been driving all that long themselves.

As for arrogance? Well, that comes with the territory too. The best thing you can do is hope for (or request) someone who is older and more mature. They may be just as arrogant, but at least they won't be younger than your kids.

The on-the-job training can last from about a month to six months. After this time you will be made a "solo" driver with your company and be eligible for your own truck.

I'd like you to pause for a minute here. If you have been with the company 6 months and only driven as a second-seat or trainee... and the company allows drivers with 6 months experience to train... well, that's why I'd rather have the fat old guy as a trainer than the good looking younger one. At least I know the old-timer has some experience in snow and ice. Depending on the time of year you do this, your trainer may little or no experience driving in bad weather!

In any case, you will get along better with your trainer if you are polite and try to listen to what he is trying to teach you. You may know some of it from school. The problem is the student before you didn't. Your trainer is there to fill in the gaps. Different CDL schools teach different things. The only way your trainer can be sure you learn what you need is to cover EVERYTHING again. He's not doing it because he thinks you are stupid, he does it so you will be a safe driver when he's done.

Most trainers think their students are stupid because they don't listen, not because they don't know something. Ask questions and show your trainer that you are paying attention to what they tell you.

It's also important to realize that your trainer is not just teaching you about how to drive a truck, he is teaching you about the trucking industry, and especially how to make a decent living at the company you are with. He may not shower every day because there is not enough time, or there is no parking at the truck stop you fuled at. Instead of complaining, because these are the job conditions for over-the-road truckers, you should ask yourself if this is really the right job for you.

And ask yourself if this is the right company for you. Not every company runs their drivers so hard they can't make a living and still have time to eat and take a shower. But a few do, or they pay their drivers so little you have to chose between a shower and paying the rent this month.

Keep in mind that you are in "on-the-job" training. Your job may include loading/unloading, talking to customers, getting the truck repaired, fueling, and other non-driving tasks. Unless you were told otherwise in orientation, you will be expected to help in all parts of the job, not just the driving part. You need to learn to handle breakdowns and repairs, relate with customers, and keep all your paperwork straight before you get into a truck of your own.

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What to do if you Need a New Trainer

Not every truck driving trainer should be training. I have heard stories of trainers putting their student out of the truck on the side of the highway in the middle of a desert, sexually harassing or even raping their students, and all too often passing on unsafe driving practices to their students.

If you are having serious problems with your trainer, then you need to tell someone. There is usually a training coordinator that sets up students and trainers. Your fleet manager or dispatcher is also someone you can talk to. Keep in mind that nearly every student has issues with cleanliness and most with "yelling". You need to let the person you are talking to know that this is a more serious complaint.

Some of the things you should question are if your trainer is not allowing you any privacy. This is not just in terms of sharing a shower, or walking in on you while you are dressing (this may be mainly for the ladies). It is also about being allowed to make a private phone call, or eat at the truck stop by yourself. If your trainer does not let you spend any time alone, he may be trying to keep you from reporting him to the company.

You should contact your company if your trainer is asking you to exceed the speed limit, constantly pass people (especially in road conditions, traffic or weather, that you are uncomfortable with), log any time that he is driving on your log book, or drive time he is logging on his log book. Be specific about the request, your response, and any additional pressure he may have put on you.

Yelling is a vague term. Trucks are noisy and people raise their voice to be heard. They also raise their voice if they are scared, or if they have to repeat themselves saying the same thing over and over again. Asking (even in a nice tone of voice) you to break the law or violate company policy is a much worse offense and one you and your company should both be taking seriously.

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