Expert Q & A – Harold Trent, USTDS School Director
Name: Harold Trent
Location: Wheat Ridge, CO
Company: United States Truck Driving School (USTDS)
Position: School Director/Supervisor of Training
Truck driving was a family affair for Harold Trent. A native Coloradan, Trent's father and mother were just a few of the family members who became drivers, and after high school, Harold decided to give it a try as well. After working primarily OTR (over the road) and regional with a small company and a few owner operators, Harold not only learned to drive; he learned the mechanical aspect as trucks as well. After many years in the business, Harold became the School Director and Supervisor of Training at the United States Truck Driving School in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
Q: Thanks for talking to us today, Harold! Tell me a little more about your early years in the industry, driving and maintaining the trucks.
A: I gained a lot of my mechanical experience from my uncle, who happens to be a career heavy duty truck mechanic, and from Thomas Pitcher, an owner operator that I spent approximately 15 years with. He started in the business in 1946 and maintained a fleet of 10 trucks serving Colorado and the surrounding states on the agricultural and construction side of the business. We kept the fleet maintained by performing our own repairs from new transmissions, to brakes, etc…the only repairs that we did not do were internal engine components. We usually sent them to a dealer for those repairs.
Not only did I get experience in trucks, but I also learned to operate various pieces of heavy equipment such as front-end loaders, dozers, scrapers and graders. I was told early in my career that if I wanted to move up the ladder of importance for the employers that I would be working for, that I needed to be as valuable and viable as I possibly could. Therefore, I learned as much as I could from anyone that was willing to show me and train me.
Q: Tell us a little about truck driving as a profession.
A: Trucking to me is a very satisfying career, if you are able to take the cons with the pros. First off, job security is the main thing in the industry. As long as people need food, shelter, clothing, there will be a need for trucks. Everything that we own was moved at some point by a truck. I mean, it isn't going to get to the store by itself. Even during bad economies, professional drivers are still in high demand as goods still need to be moved. There really isn't any other industry that can say the same thing. Another pro would be the income, it's steady, as long as you are willing to work, and it's there, and drivers write their own paychecks. If you want to be on the low end of the wage scale, do a poor job and you will most likely find yourself there. On the other hand, if you want to be on the high end of the scale, do a good job. Don't turn down loads, don't complain, be polite and professional to your customers, and remember, we are out here to make a living, not to see the sights. Some of the cons, time away from home, long hours, traffic, and weather can make for some pretty miserable days, if you allow it to grind on you. But, for the individual that can stay positive and optimistic, no problem at all. I would think that if an individual were looking at trucking for a career, they need to consider all the factors involved and not focus on just the money or the "fancy" equipment. And, trucking as a profession is not for everyone. Who is suited for it depends on why they are considering trucking as a career. If the motives are not realistic then the individual could face the possibility of an unsatisfying career. Trucking is not just a job, it is a complete lifestyle change.
Q: What is the advantage of going to a truck driving school?
A: If the trucking school is committed to properly training qualified driver applicants, then you can be sure that the school will take the time to make sure that its students are satisfactorily trained and equipped with the basic skills necessary to do the job for which they are applying. They will be educated in the required FMSCA essentials that are a must in the industry. They will be trained by individuals that have committed themselves to correctly equipping new drivers with a safety oriented mindset and driving ability. Trucking companies do train, don't get me wrong, but they are usually more concerned with the customers they are servicing rather than training. Trucking schools, the best ones, are only concerned about correct and proper driver training.
Q: What kinds of things should a prospective student look for in a truck driving school?
A: I would take a look at the history of the school. How long have they been established? Are they accredited? Are they recognized by any organizations such as the CVTA or PTDIA? What is at the core of their curriculum? What kind of job placement do they offer? How much actual "hands-on" time does an individual receive on actual equipment and not simulators? What do the previous graduates have to say about the school? An individual has to be careful on the kinds of things that trucking schools promise to the potential student. For example, in the area of job placement, no school, not even mine, can guarantee anyone a job after completion. It's not up to the school to guarantee that any applicant is hired by any specific company, unless that school is training specifically for that company. All a trucking school can do is point a student to a company, it's then up to the company as to whether or not a particular candidate meets the requirements of the company to which they are applying. I would be careful with any school that "guarantees" a student driver a job after graduation, unless, as I mentioned earlier, that school is training for that company. I would be leery of any trucking school that promises you anything. Here at USTDS the only promise that we make to our students is that we will give them the training and tools that they need to be as successful as they can possibly be; what they do with the training and tools after they graduate is up to them.
Q: What are some of your duties as School Director/Supervisor of Training?
A: As the School Director I am responsible for overseeing the functions of all the school departments in relation to the rules set forth by the State Department of Education, the Federal and State Department of Transportation and all other regulatory bodies. I oversee the implantation of curriculum and all risk management programs. I create and develop new or improved ideas for continued improvement in all phases of training. I monitor the activities and relationships established with trucking companies to maintain the best relationships possible for the greatest placement opportunities for our students. I plan, direct and assign duties for all Training Department personnel and troubleshoot any Training Department problems. Finally, I make sure that our equipment is properly licensed and maintained for effective and efficient training.
Q: Is there anything you wish would change about the trucking industry?
A: I believe that the industry has become too full and too pressured with all of the "Big Brother" stuff. When I first got into the industry, you knew what the job was and what was expected of you. The only time the boss was able to get in touch with you was when you stopped at a pay phone and checked in. Now, if someone wants to know what their drivers are doing, they just push a button and look at the camera. I think that many trucking companies have been dishonest with the use of GPS tracking and incident cameras. I hear too many stories of these things being used as a disciplinary tool rather than a safety tool, for which it was promoted to be in the first place. There is way too much micromanagement of the drivers, and I believe that is one of the main reasons that companies have issues with driver retention. If you need to constantly monitor the performance of your drivers to make sure that they are doing what you want them to do, then you should probably be out there doing it yourself. I may sound cynical, but I come from a different era. Employers got rid of the bad drivers and kept the good ones, and the good ones were usually rewarded handsomely for their performance. In my opinion, trucking companies have allowed the insurance companies to dictate too much as to what they can and cannot do, and they have also focused too much on keeping their customers happier than their drivers. I am of the opinion that you can have all the happy customers that you want, but if you have unhappy drivers, or no drivers at all, then you won't have happy customers for very long. If trucking companies would take an aggressive effort to take good care of their drivers, the result would be extremely happy customers. Good drivers do not just want good pay, they also want to be acknowledged for their efforts. They want to be told about the good jobs they are doing and they want to be rewarded for doing their jobs with more than just pay. That is the way that the industry used to be. For the most part, we have lost that. Now, trucking companies are more concerned about throwing the big parties and the big money at their customers in hope that it will keep the customers from going elsewhere. If we could get back to the way we used to do it and spend that time and money and partying on the drivers, trucking companies would not have to worry about their customers. The attitude and performance of the drivers would keep the customers. That's old school and that's the way we used to do it. Stop being such a big brother to your drivers and start being the partner to your drivers!
Q: What is your definition of success as a truck driver?
A: My definition of success for a professional driver is this: do you enjoy what you do? If you don't enjoy what you are doing then it's time to move on. I believe that an individual should not stay at a company or in a position just because the money is good. If you don't enjoy your job, you are probably not going to do the best job you possibly can, and lack of job enjoyment can lead to other problems like marital issues and health issues. Find what you enjoy and then do the best you can. On the other hand, is the question of income. How much is really enough and do you really need to have more? The biggest problem, with regard to income, in our society today is that we are never satisfied with what we have. We always seem to need bigger, better, and more. If we could just adjust our desires realistically then the problem of income would cease to be an issue. For example, if I enjoy doing what I am doing, and if I have adjusted my lifestyle to live within my means, the question of income ceases to become a problem.
Q: Any other advice for anyone looking to become a truck driver or eventually enter your type of position?
A: Thoroughly research all areas of the industry. Make sure that you understand the commitments and the requirements that will be expected of the professional driver. Discuss with family, especially your immediate family, as the lifestyle will affect them also. And, keep in mind, trucking is not a 9 to 5 job. I tell our students this: trucking is 35 hours a day, 45 days a month, 15 months a year, meaning that as long as people need food, shelter and clothing, trucking will not stop. If you are already in the industry and you are considering moving up the ladder of importance, go for it! Training will be offered and knowledge will come, question is, are you willing to make the commitment?
Learn more about how to become a truck driver.