What is the true cost of training?

For years, the towing industry has been adapting to changes caused by external forces but the one change it really needs is mandatory training.

by Mark Graves

Featured article from Tow Canada, September-October 2019

New styles of equipment are introduced every year with current styles being updated or redesigned in response to the evolution of motor vehicles. Flatbeds or tilt and load trucks are relatively new and it seems customers prefer these regardless of whether they are actually needed. When the public sees something new, they embrace it. So why is it that the towing industry struggles to embrace change?

Vehicles with broken ball joints or vehicles with no keys and wheels turned can be a nightmare to load or unload with a flatbed. Skates and Go-Jacks help, but it is still harder than using a wheel lift and dollies, yet flatbeds are requested over and over again.

Police request flatbeds when a vehicle has a flat tire but neglect to tell us it is over a 30-foot embankment past large boulders, resulting in the wrong truck being sent out to a job. The job still has to be done, however, and most customers are not likely to pay for a second truck and the police will not want to wait for another truck to arrive. Now what?

“Training is a cost of doing business. These costs need to be built into every tow call.”

This is where training and experience come into play. Understanding winch and line capacities can help you with the rigging. Experience helps with positioning the truck. Without experience, it creates a trial and error scenario.

The true cost of training, or lack thereof, starts to show quickly on a technical recovery when there is little to no damage to the vehicle. Common sense is not what it used to be. But what is common sense?

Years ago, children grew up in the backyard helping their father work on the family vehicle. They found a love for cars and learned at least basic mechanical knowledge, such as how to change a tire, the way to use a jack, and basic use of hand tools. They grew up with a little knowledge that could be expanded upon.

Today, vehicles are more complex. You can hardly change your winter tires in the backyard due to tire pressure monitoring systems. Parents are no longer able to do these things with their children when they are young. As a result, young people are not learning these basic skillsets until they start to work.

In a TV commercial for an insurance company, this fact is exploited. The advertisement shows a young man talking on the phone, trying to learn how to change a tire on the side of the road but not knowing what a tire iron is. This is the next generation of tow truck operators.

When an operator is dispatched to a call and cannot complete it due to the improper equipment or a lack of training, it costs in terms of both time and money. This likely results in an unhappy customer as well. Worse yet, if the operator tries to do something they are not properly trained to do they could end up damaging the vehicle. Or the unthinkable happens, and the operator makes an uneducated decision and injures himself or someone else.

Training is a cost of doing business. These costs need to be built into every tow call. Minimum training standards are long past due. Gone are the days of sending someone out in a truck and saying they are now a tow operator. The complexity of vehicles, multi-lane highways, higher speed limits, and many other variables make minimum training essential.

Internal company programs can be a great start. For example, a company policy could state that a new recruit must spend a minimum amount of time with an experienced operator. It could be that they first watch, learn, and help an experienced driver before graduating to working on their own. It is also important to include some written and theory work so that they have an understanding of winching and maximum loading, weights and measures. Documentation of all training is essential.

The implications of not properly training your drivers can negatively affect your business in so many ways. With Commercial Vehicle Operators Registration (CVOR) in effect, if a driver does something wrong and is ticketed, you could lose demerit points on your CVOR. If your CVOR is bad enough, your insurance will go up. Worse still, you could lose your CVOR and be out of business.

Insurance costs can balloon if a company claims too many damages. This could also result in not being able to get insurance, as you become a high risk. A company’s reputation could be at risk if it is having issues with damages and social media has a way of making sure all the bad publicity is front and center.

There are minimum training standards for changing a propane tank in the workplace, use of a forklift or man lift, fall arrest, basic lifting, and many others. These are jobs that are usually done in a controlled environment. A tower is working on the side of the road in anything but a controlled environment.

The difference between a tow truck driver and an operator is training. An operator has the training and confidence to go out and perform in public and make your company proud. Companies that embrace training will have happier employees, fewer damages, less injuries, and typically grow and prosper.

So, what is the true cost of training? I leave that for you to decide.