Interview with Truck Driving Expert, Thom Pronk

Thom Pronk works as vice president of recruiting, training and safety for C. R. England Inc., a Salt-Lake-City-based global transportation provider. Mr. Pronk oversees the company's recruiting, training and safety operations. He has developed C.R. England's driving schools with the goal of making it an industry leader in training and safety. Career Colleges recently interviewed Mr. Pronk to discuss his background in trucking and get a unique insight on his industry expertise.

Truck Driving Commercial Vehicle Operation

Q: How do you measure success of a driver training program?

A: First, look at how the results are measured. If the measurement is purely getting in the hours or days that are associated with a program and completing them, then that program fails. We are competency based. Our schools are based on what we actually see a driver completing. It is more important that we see them competently do the skills we have taught them. Competency-based learning by far is the most important thing.

Second, what can the program do to help students find a career that meets their needs? C.R. England has partner schools, and anyone who completes the training and meets hiring criteria can be put to work almost immediately.

Lastly, find out the safety results for people who leave the program and go to work for carriers. We hold our instructors accountable for our students for six months after they finish their CDL (Commercial Driver's License) and over-the-road training. We want to make sure students remember what the instructor has taught them.

Q: How can students best prepare for the challenges of the program?

A: Preparing yourself for the training is key. It's a lot of hours, it is hard work, and it is not for the faint of heart. If you think you can just walk in and accomplish every task without some significant work you are misled. You have got to have a great work ethic and not be afraid to make mistakes and learn along the way. You have to rebound from early mistakes, and that is a tough thing to do.

Q: Are there specific skills or work experience that can help prospective students?

A: I see people be successful from every walk of life and every possible past level of experience. We have seen a lot of success from people who grew up on farms and have driven heavy machinery. We also love people who have had experience in the military. They have the work ethic, and sometimes they have operated heavy machinery. But the key is work ethic rather than any set of skills they can bring to the table.

Prior to going to a truck driving school, it's worthy for students to get a CDL permit where they live. Then they are one step ahead and will know some of the things they will be asked in the written portion of test and will be better prepared.

Q: How do you keep up-to-date with the latest changes to truck driving practices?

A: We spend lot of time researching new technologies such as safety technology, and use plain old common sense. It's what we call building-block learning. There is a whole lot of technology that deals with training and new training ideas. But the bottom line is that adults learn differently, and we need to keep up with our skills on how to teach them to be successful drivers. We have people come through that are age 21 to 60, and being able to find appropriate methods to teach them is crucial to us. We have to make sure we translate that into our curriculum.

Q: What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?

A: Joining is not necessary, but they can go out and read literature from the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, American Trucking Association or the Truckload Carriers Association. They all provide great information about what to look for in training programs and what to look for in a career. Understanding that there is a career associated with the training they get, whether they do their training with a carrier school or at a community college, and understanding what that career can look like when finished is key to being successful.

Q: What advice would you give students who are thinking about going into this field?

A: I always tell people to give themselves a chance. I have seen people at both the very low end of the scale and the upper end of the scale in terms of age and experience be successful. But they all have one thing in common: the ability to overcome the challenges and adversity this career can offer. It is tough to travel. It is a different lifestyle, but it has its rewards -- and their office always has a view! If they understand the challenges, and they can handle being away from home, there is a great career in it.

Q: Are there any kinds of individuals you would recommend to completely stay away from this program?

A: It really is a work ethic thing. Truck driving is not for someone who thinks it is just sitting behind the wheel. If that is their mentality, they are not going to be successful. It is long hours, and it is hard work. Sometimes truckers work early in the morning, sometimes late at night. They also are dealing with customers and with the general population when on the road.

Q: How do you incorporate newer educational technologies into your courses?

A: We do a lot of things with camera-based technology. We give them the viewpoint of what we saw when they are driving so that they can see their driving habits. We also incorporate different technologies that incorporate following distances and lane departures. If drivers are constantly touching the lane or moving in or out of their lane, they get an audible warning. It teaches them how to aim high and maintain a lane, as well as to understand how big the truck is, how to stay in middle of a lane and how to not impede anyone else while driving.

Q: How do you teach students to prepare for the physical demands of the field?

A: We do what we call physical agility testing. We take the minimum requirements of job, such as lifting, as well as climbing underneath and in and out of the trailer, and give them a test prior to going through a training program to make sure they can meet the demands of the job.

Q: What is your outlook on the future of the truck driving industry?

A: The reality is that the trucking industry is going through a pretty significant driver shortage, and it is my belief that it's going to get worse before it gets better. We will need to train a lot more people. We train a lot of people through our schools and partner schools, and the trend going forward is that it will be as commonplace as going to community college or any other trade school. There will be more opportunities for people to get training, and the industry will be a lot bigger before it will ever shrink.

The largest part of turnover in the industry is brand-new people who don't know what they are getting into. The first three months can be really tough. The good news is that a lot of those guys come back. It is a good career with a decent-paying wage in an economy that is not very hot for jobs. But the initial turnover is pretty high.

Overall, this is an industry that the next generation has not yet really embraced. The baby boomers are starting to exit, and a new generation will come in and make this industry successful in the future. I challenge them to be a part of the evolution of the industry and help us train them the way they would like to be trained so they can be successful.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of CareerColleges.com or any other organization.

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