Why driver skills assessment matters

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Managing director of AptiDrive, James Shuker, talks to IRU’s director of certification and standards, Patrick Philipp, about the importance of targeted efforts to assess and train drivers.

Patrick Philipp: The pandemic has brought many issues to the fore, and ensuring business continuity is the focus for many companies. Why is now a good time to start managing drivers’ effectiveness?

James Shuker: Even before the crisis, recruiting and retaining good drivers was a challenge. Safe professional drivers are key to running an efficient, trusted, and cost-effective transport business. The need for competent staff is therefore going to increase as we move towards ‘the new normal’. It is also clear that many current recruitment and training practices will not be fit for purpose and we will have to rethink the way we do things. This actually gives us a great opportunity to change and improve.

PP: What kind of changes do you see coming?

JS: We already assess drivers, but a lot can be done to improve the effectiveness of assessment and the efficiency of the process. The only way to ensure fewer recruitment errors is to increase your knowledge about the candidates, especially regarding the factors critical to safety and job performance. The same can be applied to your existing staff: the more you know about your drivers, the easier it is to take targeted action to improve their performance. 

Improving the effectiveness of assessment does not have to be complex or expensive. Even a small improvement will show an almost immediate return on investment. The same goes for delivering effective training; we need to move away from a generic one-size-fits-all approach. Targeted training is more cost-effective. It starts with assessing the individual to identify any gaps in skills or knowledge.

PP: What are the main issues with traditional candidate assessment methods?

JS: Before a new driver starts, recruiters usually look at their CV, check their driver’s licence for penalties, ask about previous driving experience, test their skills using an in-vehicle driving assessment and so on. The problem is that these are actually unreliable indicators of job performance and driving safety. 

For example, in-vehicle assessment effectively tests a driver’s skill and knowledge of driving, but not what their driving behaviour is like when they are not being observed. Furthermore, it does not reveal much about the non-driving skills of the person, which often count for more than the actual driving when it comes to performance and efficiency. Drivers must also be proficient in preparing correct documentation, avoiding fines, delivering goods to clients in an efficient and professional manner, and reacting appropriately in unexpected situations. 

PP: What kinds of solutions could help? 

JS: A driver’s competence typically consists of three aspects: knowledge, skills for putting this knowledge into practice, and behavioural traits that determine whether the knowledge and skills are being implemented day to day. Ideally, you should measure all three aspects of competence. 

Measuring skills and knowledge using KPIs and by mapping skills gaps can be tricky, especially for skills that are seldom used, such as accident procedures. Furthermore, for businesses it makes more sense to address problems with customer service or load securing before KPIs are affected, not after. 

IRU RoadMasters is a useful solution for measuring driver competence. It provides an online assessment tool that assesses drivers’ skills using simulation, video and contextual exercises. The online assessment can be complemented by an assessor-led practical test for improved accuracy. IRU RoadMasters provides managers with actionable dashboards at the individual and group levels. For recruitment, the individual report is useful during interview and the group level comparison report can be used as a selection tool.

PP: What about the third aspect of competence, the behavioural traits?

JS: Research tells us that more than 85% of accidents involving commercial vehicles are a result of poor behaviours, especially a lack of concentration. This means that you need to assess behaviour to improve the safety of your workforce. Our key test for drivers gives you insights into specific traits, such as attention and concentration, which are critical for safe professional driving. The results of this test can be combined with the IRU RoadMasters individual and group comparison reports to obtain a complete driver profile. 

PP: How does this behavioural assessment work? 

JS: It is very easy to administer in groups or with individuals. It takes about eight minutes to complete and it is not a written test, so people with a low literacy level can take it. It is also the only test specifically designed for drivers and approved by the British Psychological Society. 

PP: How can you use these results?

JS: The results can be used to address performance challenges before KPIs are affected. However, the most interesting part for me is matching the results of these tests to existing performance data from tachograph records, telematics and accident logs, as well as attendance records and any other relevant information such as accuracy of picking or delivery and customer feedback. Analysing the links between the results and performance data enables us to more accurately address the root causes of performance issues. 

PP: What is the key takeaway regarding driver assessment? 

JS: I think there are two key points. Firstly, proper assessment will give you visibility on an individual’s performance in almost any aspect of a job role before they ever step into a driving seat.

Secondly, measuring a driver’s skills and ability provides you with rich data on the root causes of problems and thus enables you to make better investments and decisions on training plans, incentive schemes and recruitment.