When drivers and technicians arrive at Houston-based Waste Management’s training center in Glendale, Arizona, some of them have never been on a plane before. Some are single mothers. Some are skilled drivers with 15 years of experience and others don’t have their commercial driver's license (CDL).
“When they get here, they’re really from all over the country,” says Dan Roses, a driver trainer at the Glendale training center. “They really don’t know each other.”
Over two weeks of sharing an apartment, meals and training together “they become friends with their teammates,” Roses says.
During the first week, technicians are exposed to classes and hands-on shop training every day and drivers are immersed in a classroom where they learn Waste Management safety principles and behaviors, which they apply on a simulated driving course during the second week. Their instructor, Roses, started with the company as a roll-off driver 10 years ago and worked his way up in the company from residential route manager to trainer and mentor.
“I’ve really been able to apply my past experience to my students and help them understand what we’re trying to achieve,” Roses says. “It makes it a lot easier when my students get out there and I can actually hands-on show them that just by doing the little things they can be good stewards to the company and to our communities. I always tell them, ‘If you practice the basics, you will have a long career in this industry.’”
The 30,000 square-foot facility with a 10-acre driver training course, classrooms, computer labs and technician workstations opened in late April. More than 100 driver and technician students will graduate from the facility each week of the year. Waste Management opened the Glendale training center after seeing the benefits and rewards from its first training center in Fort Myers, Florida.
“That was the proof of concept to make all this work,” says Ryan Cook, site manager at the Glendale training center. “They proved that drivers that go through the training facilities are far less likely to get into an accident, far less likely to get injured and far more likely to stay with us after their first year.”
Applying basic principles and good behaviors, including how to get on and off a truck properly, “tend to be the difference between a job and a career,” Cook says. Calculating following distances and how to advance their field of view are all concepts the drivers learn on the driving course that they carry with them while driving on highways and through residential neighborhoods.
“When we get out on the course, they work in a mock residential town and we help them understand how they can apply every one of these principles that we’re trying to teach them in a wide environment, behind the wheel with somebody next to them showing them how and when they can be used,” Roses says.
Every lesson, no matter what the topic, is tied back to safety.
“There isn’t a day in this facility where we don’t cover safety,” Cook says. “We’re teaching them how to do it the Waste Management way. Even on a day we’re teaching DOT rules and regulation, we tie it back to safety.”
Integrating drivers and technicians in training together has resulted in a sharing of best practices across the company and a kinship among the diverse workforce.
“One thing I really enjoy is taking a driver that’s done it for years and helping him see things in a different light and then having a new driver that’s never touched a trash truck get in there and watching them have that teamwork,” Roses says. “At that point, we’re doing exactly what we want to do as a company. We’re teaching each other how to grow and to be better and to be safe.”
The waste management industry is experiencing a national driver shortage and an “all-time low unemployment rate.”
“If you look at the number of people going into this field, it seems to be on the decline,” says Tamla Oates-Forney, senior vice president, chief human resources officer at Waste Management. Waste Management has not only made the application process to work at the company more user-friendly, but also hires candidates on the spot on National Career Day. The training centers have been an integral piece to the recruiting and retention of drivers.
“We found if we dedicate time to train both skilled and unskilled drivers and we start them off with an extensive training program that simulates their experience they’re going to have as a driver for us, that it really improves their job readiness and their job effectiveness,” Oates-Forney says. “We also found it dramatically improved our safety.”
She adds, “The demand became so increasingly high so much so that we decided to open another training center to accommodate the number of drivers we had coming into the company, so they had the tools necessary to succeed.”
During her visit to the center on the week of the grand opening, Oates-Forney spoke to a new class of drivers and asked them about their experience.
“What they told me is what they learned here has changed their approach, so much that it’s changed their behavior in how they drive personally,” Oates-Forney says. “They said, ‘People talk about safety,’ in terms of what they’re committed to, but with this training center and the time, effort, energy and resources Waste Management is putting into ensuring they are truly trained before they go out on the road is second to none.”
The training centers not only help address the industry challenge of new driver and fleet technician turnover, but it has also led to new career paths for drivers and technicians and a family-oriented culture within the company.
“We have technicians staying in the same apartments as the drivers,” Cook says. “We are integrating the Waste Management family as it exists at the hauling sites they go to work for. We want to have the most engaged, most customer-centric and the safest employees in the industry.”
One of the most memorable experiences, he says, is watching the single working mothers who decided to become a driver for Waste Management to support their children graduate.
“That’s where the real reward comes from,” he says. “It’s all about building people.”
In the future, Waste Management will share the stories of drivers who have gone on to serve in leadership roles within the company.
“It’s not just a job we want to hire them for. We want them to have a long-term, prosperous career,” Oates-Forney says. “They’ve heard we’re a ‘People First’ organization, but now they’ve seen and felt it.”