Wow, it's been two months since I hit the road with my trainer. I can't believe it's already been that long. Time is really flying out here. As I stated in one of my earlier posts, my training period is much longer than most companies, so I probably won't be done for at least another 6 weeks or so. But since I've put in quite a bit of time with a trainer already, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on how to survive your company trainer.
If you're just getting ready to hit the road, and you're anything like me, you are probably nervous about sharing a truck with a complete stranger for 6 or more weeks. I think that's a totally natural feeling and there really isn't any fix for that. Preparing to share your life with somebody you don't even know for an extended time can cause a lot of anxiety. But hopefully you'll find, as I have, that it isn't so bad.
I believe I either got real lucky with the trainer I have or I just adjusted very well, because I have had nearly zero problems with my trainer. We get along great. The first week or two was the hardest because we were still trying to figure out each other's personalities. I didn't know what sort of things I could say or joke about in front of him, what would offend him, if I could curse in front of him, what he'd do if I made a mistake,etc. But being with my trainer 24/7, it didn't take long for the tension to really die down. I think after the first week we began to get real comfortable with each other, and after the second week we were already at "friend" status. After two months, we've even contemplated team driving together once my training is done, so you can see the progress we've made.
I guess my biggest piece of advice is don't let your ego get in the way of your training. If your trainer tells you to do something, just do it (assuming it can be safely done). If you have a problem with what he told you to do, talk about it later. Also, don't get offended if your trainer tells you to do the same thing over and over again. For example, when pulling out of a parking spot my trainer always says "Pull out as far as you can and use as much space as you can before turning. Remember you have a 53ft trailer behind you."After hearing that over and over and over again, it started to annoy me a little bit. But instead of saying "I know" or coming back with a negative response, I just say "ok" and do it. This is just one example of many. When you're told to do the same thing over and over again,it gets to the point where you just want to say "I know! Leave me alone!" Come to find out last week, my trainer does this on purpose. He knows that I know. But he's trying to "condition" my brain to actively think about that each and every time I pull out of a spot. You'd be surprised how many truck drivers pull out of a parking spot and tear off the front bumper of the truck next to them because they forgot they were pulling a trailer. Laugh now, but when you hop in the drivers seat just seconds or minutes after you wake up, you'd be surprised the mistakes you can make!
Also, don't argue about things your trainer tells you when you're driving. Here's an example: I was driving through Dallas, TX one day when it was pretty congested. My lane was ending and I had to merge over to my right. I turned on my turn signal and a vehicle in the lane I was merging into flashed his lights to tell me I can come on over. He was close to my trailer, but I knew I had cleared him.As I began to move over, my trainer said "whoa, hang on a sec there's a car there!" He obviously didn't see the car flash his lights at me. Instead of continuing to move over, I stayed in my lane until some distance was between me and the car before I moved into the right lane. There's no sense in arguing about it. Your trainer wants to know that you're willing to listen and take advice. If you start doing things even though your trainer said not to do it, there could be some tension there.
Work your butt off!! Now is not the time to be lazy! Chances are your trainer checks in with your dispatcher to talk about your progress. If that isn't reason enough to get you to work, it just really helps the relationship when your trainer knows you aren't lazy. Anytime we have to drop a trailer, I always get my gloves on and hop out as soon as he sets the brakes to lower the landing gear, disconnect the brake lines / electrical line, etc. Same thing when we hook up. I always jump out as fast as I can. When we pull into shippers or receivers, I always grab the paperwork and go check in. I don't even give my trainer a chance to do it. I always offer to drive and usually put in a full 500 -600 miles on my shift with no complaints. Not only does this get me some experience, but it shows my trainer that I'm not a lazy bum. And during those occasions when I'm just too tired to drive or can't safely do something, it's no big deal. IfI were to tell my trainer right now that I can't drive, he wouldn't even bat an eye. He'd know for a fact it's a safety issue and not a laziness issue. It all comes back to ego here. Don't worry about who is doing more work, who is driving the best shifts, etc. During your training, just work hard, even if your trainer seems lazy. You only have a couple months, then you're on your own. If you want to be lazy on your own dollar, you'll be able to do that in a relatively short period of time.
Ask questions! As many as you can think of! This is hands down the best training you'll receive. Not to take away from CDL schools, but that is nothing compared to actually being out on the road with a company trainer. This is the real deal. If you don't take advantage of it now, you'll miss out on the best one on one training experience you'll ever get. Even if you think the question is stupid, just ask it. Who cares if your trainer laughs at you. Did I mention the ego thing? Ask, ask, ask.
Do things even if you're nervous. When I first started, I'd get into situations every now and then where my trainer would ask "do you want me to hop over and do it?" That usually occurred during real tight backing spots. Initially, I was nervous and just let my trainer do it. But now, I always say "I'll give it a try." Generally, with the help of my trainer guiding me, I can get it done. Maybe not as fast as he could do it, and I might make a few other drivers angry since they have to wait on me, but who cares. They were new once too, even though some don't like to admit it.Like I said, this is a very valuable time. Take advantage and don't worry about everyone else.
On a more personal level, you and your trainer will have bad days. Just like everyone else, your trainer will have those days where he just isn't in a good mood, doesn't want to be away from home, isn't happy with his job that day, etc. The same thing will happen to you. If my trainer is having an off day, I generally just give him his space. If he's complaining about something, I just listen and agree with him. Even if what he's complaining about is his own fault.If I sense he's in a bad mood, when it's time to eat, I offer to buy. It isn't often when my trainer is real grumpy, but it does happen and chances are it will happen to you. Learn your trainers personality, but I find on those days it's best to just keep the conversations to a minimum. Once he gets some sleep, all is well again.
Keep the truck clean. Try to be respectful of your trainers property. You are a guest in his truck.Don't let the trash build up, don't leave bottles or cans of pop laying around, keep your belongings and dirty clothes kept in a corner, etc. And if you see some trash your trainer left behind, just pick it up and put it in a bag. Once again, that ego thing. When the trash if full, take it out at the next fuel stop. While you're out there, you might as well clean off the windshield.I even did a thorough cleaning of the inside of the truck when my trainer took some home time. Did I have to? Nope. Did he ask me to? Nope.But when he came back to a nice clean truck after being home a couple days, he sure did appreciate it.
With all that being said, keep in mind one major thing - your trainer is your boss, and your co-driver, and he should treat you with respect. You shouldn't be expected to be miserable and bossed around constantly while you're on the truck with your trainer. It should be a team effort. Keep communication lines open. If something is really bothering you, talk about it with your trainer. If things still can't get resolved and you're just not getting along, call your dispatcher. Most companies will allow you to switch trainers if need be. Not all personalities are going to match. Don't make it too personal. That's just the way it is sometimes and that's ok. But I think if you take initiative, do as much work as you can, let the "little things" go, and work together with your trainer, you'll be just fine. After all, it's sort of hard to boss somebody around when they are doing all the work anyway!It is definitely tough having basically no privacy for such an extended period of time and I'm certainly looking forward to getting my own truck, but I'll tell you for sure, I've learned a ton during my training so far and I've also made a new friend out of the experience.
Until next time, drive safely!