If you’ve ever watched drivers nod off in the classroom during a safety training session, you’ll understand the challenges that Ascend’s safety, orientation and retention execs were looking to address with a more immersive, interactive, online training program.
Regional and dedicated dry-van carrier Ascend was formed in early 2022 with the merger of Milan Supply Chain Solutions, based in Jackson, Tennessee, and J&B Services, based in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
When Safety Manager Josh Anderson started working at what was then Milan about seven years ago, the company had just a few hundred trucks. Today, it’s more than 1,000.
“We had to find a platform that could sustain that growth, and future growth,” he explains.
It was another acquisition, of Greenville, South Carolina-based Dedicated Transportation Solutions, or DTS, that exposed the Ascend team to the immersive system from Luma Brighter Learning.
“We do monthly safety training for our drivers they’re required to complete,” Anderson explains. Although the company had previously been using another training provider, they were looking for something better, something that drivers would retain and even enjoy. The interactive Luma system seemed like a good fit.
“We found it offered things that we needed to be able to complete the vision we had in our mind,” Thompson says.
For instance, Luma allows the Ascend team to have control to upload its own custom content. And it offers more reporting options so they can see more detail on completion rates and time spent on certain projects.
“Our previous provider was just a video,” he explains. “A driver would watch for five minutes and go about their day.”
With the new system, he says, “You’re more involved in it, which gives you an ownership of it. They’re more engaged; they’re having to click on different things.”
As an example, he cites the “safety nugget” on placing emergency triangles. The driver actually has to drag and place the triangles on the screen to the correct position.
“Not only are they listening to it and seeing it, but in a sense it’s giving them a practical application where they’re having to do it,” even if it’s in a virtual context.
While it’s hard to determine the exact cause of reduced accidents, Anderson says since implementing the Luma system mid 2022, accident frequencies have been trending down month over month.
Better New Driver Orientation
Of course, monthly safety meetings aren’t the only time such a training platform is needed. Ascend wanted to develop a streamlined, hybrid orientation process and needed to find a platform that could support that.
Ronnie Presley, Ascend vice president of safety and retention, says, “Once I heard from DTS about Luma and the capabilities, I thought, this offers a platform to allow us to convert a three- or four-day orientation down to one to two days, which would make drivers happy. They want to come and get started working, instead of keeping them in classes all day.”
Anderson created what Luma calls “safety nuggets,” which drivers can complete before they arrive at orientation, eliminating wasted time and allowing more face-to-face interaction during the shorter onsite orientation.
“Using Luma makes learning fun,” says Jeffery Thompson, Ascend orientation leader. “A driver doesn’t want to sit and watch a video on something they already know. But when you make that fun, short, and stimulate their brain in different ways, that’s what drivers seem to enjoy.
“You go to an arcade to play the games, not to watch everyone else,” he adds.
In addition to videos, they can create interactive immersion learning modules using still photos. A photo of the inside of a truck cab, for instance, could have buttons located on various items in the cab; if a driver taps a button, information pops up describing what that particular thing does. A series of photos taken around a truck could walk a driver through a pretrip inspection.
One of the pain points that the Luma system has been able to address is training drivers on electronic logging devices.
“When drivers come to a new fleet it’s a new ELD system. When drivers move from one truck to another and it’s a different ELD system, instead of bringing the driver in out of route to teach him, we’re able to send these training modules to them on how to use that ELD system that’s in their truck. That’s been a huge friction point we were glad to be able to resolve.”
Thompson calls the results from Luma “astounding.”
“I can take a driver who knows nothing about our ELD system, send them a training they can do the night after orientation, and the next day they come in and tell me that training was awesome. I can take drivers who struggle slightly with one thing in orientation and they can take training in Luma.”
Using Luma to do part of the orientation training and paperwork has played a part in improving its show rate percentages.
“If the driver commits to doing those nuggets, instead of just telling a recruiter, ‘I’ll be there,’ they’re more likely to show up for orientation. “This year we’re at a 96% show rate,” he says. “And it shows [new drivers] we are a safe company.”
Customized and Personal Training
One of the features the Ascend team liked about the Luma platform was that they can create the content and load it into the system themselves.
“We talk about being a people-first culture here at Ascend, and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits I love about creating our own videos and making it part of that,” Anderson says. “It’s not just some paid actor that’s creating a video. So many times, when we go into orientation, they say ‘You’re the guy from the video!’ Before they got here they’ve already made a connection with the company, not just the recruiter they talked to on the phone.”
The Ascend team is already thinking to what it can do with the system in the future.
For example, the company is in the process of building a system where every power unit will get a unique QR code. The driver will be able to scan the QR code and gain access to tractor permits, cab cards, insurance documents, anything they would need during a roadside inspection.
Anderson wants to take the gamification aspect a step further, assigning reward points drivers can earn as they complete various training modules. Those points can be converted into credit to buy things in a company store.
When asked if there were any challenges involved in adopting the new training system, Anderson said It took a lot of manpower and time to actually create the videos.
“Once we created them, the process of getting them uploaded is easy.” In Ascend’s case, Anderson already had video editing skills. He suggests that other companies looking to create a similar training program “find someone that knows how to edit and make videos.”
Thompson did point out, however, that if the company had not been in the process of a rebranding, they could have repurposed a lot of the video footage they already had, and the amount of time to create those videos would have been substantially less.
“The biggest challenge was to believe there was not a challenge” in implementing it, he says.