From truck driver to pilot coach

Reading time: approx. 4 minutes
Text: Herbert Schadewald
Photos: Reinert Logistics

Pilot coach – that sounds like something linked to aviation. But it is, in fact, very down-to-earth as we’re talking about the kings of the road: truck drivers. So that they can fulfil their tasks responsibly and to the best of their ability, the haulier Reinert Logistics trains special driving trainers. After all, it is about much more than just manoeuvring the drawbar trailer from the loading point to the unloading point.

Jürgen Knaack is the lead ‘pilot coach’ at the haulier Reinert Logistics. As part of this role, he trains his colleagues to drive particularly safely, economically and efficiently. Reinert Logistics has over 570 drivers on the road and, internally, they are known as ‘truck pilots’ – a designation with which the logistics company, founded in 1990 in Schleife, Saxony, wants to clearly recognise the profession. ‘Just like airline pilots, we have a lot of responsibility, have to master complex tasks and always pay attention to safety,’ says Jürgen Knaack. ‘And with all their technology, the cabs are now quite similar to the cockpits found in the sky.’

From the cab to the school desk

Reinert Logistics launched the project in early 2018. ‘At the time, we asked 50 of our long-serving drivers whether they could imagine taking on this task,’ reports Jürgen Knaack. These colleagues stood out thanks to their particularly good driving – they therefore already had a lot of experience and a sense of responsibility.’ The Axel Bernburg driving school demonstrated to the logistics company that it was a competent partner who could deliver the specially developed basic course: a three-week training course for which the pilot-coach candidates swapped their driving seats for a school desk in February 2018. They were taught leadership skills, and they strengthened their trucker’s basic knowledge, from correctly adjusting mirrors and manoeuvring to driving economically and entering orders on a tablet.

The pilot coaches (from left): Jozia Marcin, Jürgen Knaack and Daniel Nurzynski

Proprietary digital technology in the cockpit

In the meantime, the coaches have now trained over 400 Reinert pilots. Their tasks also include accompanying Polish colleagues. These foreign colleagues attend a three-day basic training course at the Reinert site in Olszyna, Poland – this training is also led by pilot coaches. The participants particularly learn about the company’s own digital technology, as all Reinert drawbar trailers are equipped with tablets. These are not only used for navigation, but also help to make order management almost paperless, to record freight acceptance and to document delivery conditions or transport damage. In addition, the devices collect vehicle data such as speed, engine rpm, fuel consumption, brake application, as well as driving times and breaks. Among other things, the company uses the information to minimise empty runs and to help truck drivers improve their fuel-efficient driving style.

On the company’s own employee app, coaches provide practical tips in text and video format, such as advice on optimal reeving and turning behaviour.

Training reduces damage

The training courses also focus on driver training: among other things, drivers practice manoeuvring in very narrow passages. Pilot coaches accompany their new colleagues in the cab during their first week behind the wheel. During this phase, a decision is made as to whether the newcomer will continue to drive blue Reinert drawbar trailers – if so, the trainer remains their direct contact.

Jürgen Knaack is very satisfied with the experience gained as part of the coaching project so far: ‘For example, the pilots cause significantly less damage since they are accompanied by the coaches.’ When an accident happens, it is thoroughly analysed and examined to see what can be done about the causes. Coaches take particular care to ensure that their protégés secure the load optimally. ‘This in particular is sometimes handled too laxly in practice,’ says Knaack. ‘Yet it is precisely in this area that some of the greatest accident risks lurk.’

Pilot coaches also go out and check on their colleagues on-site: at rest areas, for example, they talk about how to correctly park the vehicles. Tricky parking situations on motorways may tempt people to make concessions here, which is why it is particularly important to point out the risks involved.

Reinert Logistics is constantly developing and aims to be one of the top 20 in the industry by 2025. As pilot coaches, employees can participate in this process and help shape it themselves.

Establishing a positive error culture

Reinert Logistics created an open-error culture at the same time as launching the pilot-coach project: the company not only evaluates even minor damage with those affected, but with all drivers. The truck driver first describes things from their perspective. Then they look for solutions together to avoid such accidents in the future and communicate them to all colleagues. ‘We are not concerned with apportioning blame, but we’d rather sensitise the drivers,’ reports Jürgen Knaack. ‘These unbiased error evaluations have a noticeably positive effect on the team and encourage the truckers to continuously question themselves and improve.’

However, it has so far been a challenge to get even long-serving drivers on board. Their damage ratio has remained almost unchanged and high. Jürgen Knaack sees the routine of day-to-day business in the haulage industry as the cause, and results in risks being underestimated. This makes it all the more important to keep at it consistently and support the drivers with knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, cooperation with dispatchers is to be improved. ‘All in all, the pilot-coach project adds value,’ says Knaack. ‘After all, the results so far show that we have been able to improve the quality of road transport considerably as a result.’

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