For many, landing a job driving a Big Brown Machine for UPS is a dream gig. Not only do UPS drivers earn a competitive salary and enjoy benefits, they're onboard with a company that's been repeatedly recognized by leading business publications and nonprofit organizations as one of America's "best places to work" and "launch a career."
Still, the life of UPS drivers, or DSPs (driver service providers), as the company calls them, has grown increasingly complex over time. "If you turn the clock back 15 to 20 years, we offered far more basic services. Over the course of time, technology and the demands of the business created the need for more products and information services," says Peggy Emmart, corporate schools coordinator of UPS corporate training and development department. "While in the early '90s our DSPs may have needed to concentrate on eight key tasks each day, they now routinely perform 30 to 40 major tasks within the same timeframe."
The problem UPS faced in 2004 was that DSP training hadn’t kept pace with the evolving demands of the job. "Our legacy training was pretty much instructor-led," says Emmart, "and included nearly 40 hours of lecture-based study." This format, she says, wasn't adequately preparing DSPs to perform successfully on day one, nor was lecture-style training an effective way to teach Generation X and Y DSPs, who comprise the bulk of UPS new driver workforce each year.
The signs that a new curriculum was needed became apparent that year, when the senior management team began noticing some alarming trends. The first was an increase in driver time to proficiency. "Whereas a 30-day window was once a sufficient time horizon to get new DSPs up to speed and ready to perform, we noticed that younger, new driver hires were struggling to qualify within that 30-day window," says Emmart. "At that time, many younger new hires were taking anywhere from 90 to 180 days to achieve proficiency." Also In 2004, UPS noticed the percentage of new drivers who were resigning from their position after only 30 to 45 days on the job was increasing. Again, most of these workers were from Generation Y—a fact that was especially alarming to UPS given that in 2003, Generation Y workers comprised more than 60 percent of the company's part-time "loader" workforce, the position from which UPS draws the bulk of its new drivers.
At that point, UPS knew it needed to better align training to the demands of the position so workers had a more "realistic look" at a day in the life of a DSP and were better prepared to perform successfully. The UPS team also knew it needed to train Generation Yers in ways that would correspond with their preferred learning styles. The verdict? Goodbye, lecture. Hello, interactive, hands-on instruction.
Aided by a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, UPS utilized the knowledge of experts at leading universities such as Virginia Tech and RDEA as it sought to learn how to train the next generation of drivers. These researchers found hands-on experience, combined with technology and real-time feedback, were the most critical to designing an effective training program. Through research, UPS also learned all workers, and primarily Generation X and Y workers, wanted training that related as directly as possible to their current or anticipated job responsibilities.
With this knowledge in hand, the company spent three years working with its university partners, as well as the Institute for the Future and an Indian animation company, to develop a driver training program called UPS Integrad. The program, which is housed in a $5.5-million, 11,500-square-foot training facility in Landover, MD, incorporates a mix of computer-based training, simulations, virtual learning, and self-study—and allows trainees to learn by doing. In fact, nearly 85 percent of the program comprises hands-on learning, according to Emmart.
Those who participate must complete pre-course foundational work and pass a rigorous assessment before entering UPS Integrad. They then spend one full week at the Landover, MD, facility engaged in hands-on activities. Within the "Lifting and Lowering Simulator," for example, various weights are used to simulate real-world loads, and cameras monitor body movement as trainees lift and lower packages. Using technology similar to a golf-swing analyzer, trainees are able to see whether they are moving correctly from the start.
To design the UPS Integrad program, researchers at Virginia Tech also studied the gait of experienced UPS drivers. The result of that research is UPS Integrad's "Slips and Falls Simulator," where new drivers learn how to maintain stability in varying conditions by walking on a track surface that is treated with varying substances to simulate real-world conditions that would increase the likelihood of a slip and fall (i.e., rain, ice, and oil).
Other simulated activities include a "Driver Course," during which trainees drive a prescribed travel path, and an "Integration Station," which includes various tasks from each learning station that grow more challenging each day. There is also a "Package Handling" exercise that exposes trainees to an actual package car in the training facility and tasks them with demonstrating package selection and proper on/off vehicle procedures with multiple packages—while learning what improvements can be made to their performance in real time.
The point of all this hands-on instruction is to simulate—as closely as possible—exactly what it’s like to be a DSP. According to Emmart, setting realistic expectations in this way stems turnover, teaches younger-generation learners in a style that meshes with their learning preferences, and decreases time to proficiency. The results? To date, more than 1,200 DSPs have been trained through the program, and UPS Integrad has "exceeded expectations" in all three of the program's primary goal areas, which include enhanced DSP safety, decreased new driver turnover, and accelerated time to proficiency. As a result, plans are currently in the works to build a second UPS Integrad facility outside of Chicago, and to expand UPS Integrad to other key UPS sites across the country over time.
Interested in implementing a similar program? Here are two of Emmart's tips for success:
- Take a team approach. In each UPS Integrad class, 24 students are grouped into four teams of six, and teams of six are broken down further into two-person learning pairs. These learning partners work with each other closely throughout the course and form a significant bond, according to Emmart. "On Monday, they don't know each other. By Friday, when the final assessment is given, we routinely see learning partners wait around two to three extra hours for their partner to finish the assessment and find out whether he or she passed." This bonding serves trainees well on the job, she notes. "As DSPs, they aren't supervised all day long. They are on the road, working independently, and need to rely on one another to be successful. By jump-starting those relationships in class, we're preparing DSPs to rely on their team members from day one."
- Don't start with the end in mind. "When we originally started this process, we thought the answer to training younger workers was going to be video game-type training," says Emmart. And without extensive research, UPS may very well have proceeded down that path. "But as we delved deeper and conducted additional research, we learned it wasn't about video games, it was about providing hands-on application and allowing trainees to learn by doing in a way that connects unambiguously with their jobs." The lesson? Don't assume you know what your younger workers want. Instead, make sure you properly diagnose whatever it is that is ailing your training program. From there, you'll be in a much stronger position to take the correct prescriptive measures that actually improve training.
United Parcel Service of America (UPS) Inc. is a package delivery company and a global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services, with worldwide headquarters in Atlanta. In 2009, UPS placed 70th on Training magazine's Top 125 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human capital development.