Marion Foote has been a driver mentor for over a year — most of her career as a company driver at PAM Transport. She started as a student driver herself and was trained into first seat by a veteran PAM driver mentor who inspired her to join the program after she felt she had gained enough experience.
“I love being a mentor,” says Marion. “It absolutely thrills me. When one of your students upgrades and they give you a phone call and they’re so excited. . . . The sense of accomplishment that you get from that and the joy that you get from that — it’s one of the best jobs in the world!”
Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher
Prior to joining PAM, Marion worked as an elementary, middle, and junior high school teacher. She then started running construction crews for a home improvement store in the Northeast, which is when she first started working with heavy trucks — 24-foot flatbeds used to haul equipment and building materials. After a few years, she decided to try her hand at big-rig truck driving and signed up with PAM as a student driver.
Her positive experience as a student in the PAM driver mentor program gave her a great foundation to build on. “I went through truck driving school, did my orientation, and then went out with my mentor, which was a fabulous experience,” Marion recalls. “He’d been a mentor with PAM for five years; he’d been driving for twenty. Just incredible.”
After Marion had been out on the road for a few months on her own, she felt she’d gained enough experience to start exploring the possibility of continuing her love for teaching by becoming a PAM driver mentor. “I love to teach,” she says. “And teaching on this level with every person’s different needs is a challenge. . . . My job allows me to do that.”
Learning on the Job
As Marion likes to point out, every student has different areas where they need to improve. For instance, some people have to work on basic driving skills. Others specifically need to develop better shifting skills. Some need help maintaining their logs. Others have trouble with the Qualcomm. Driver mentors need to identify each student’s particular challenges and work with them to improve in those areas.
It goes both ways, though. A student driver needs to be willing to learn. “It’s like anything else,” Marion says. “What you put in it is what you’re going to get out of it. . . . If you’re that person who, when your trainer hops out of the truck, you hop out of the truck right behind them to see what they are doing, you’re going to learn. If you’re sitting in the truck while your trainer is out pumping fuel, though, you may not figure out how to pump fuel. So when it’s your turn, you’re going to struggle a little bit.”
Tips for Transitioning to First Seat
As Marion knows from personal experience, transitioning to first seat takes patience and hard work. “It’s going take you six weeks to, what I call, ‘get your wheels on,’” she says. “Give yourself a break and realize that your driver manager has a bunch of other new drivers who are doing the same thing. Have a little patience with yourself and have patience with your manager.”
Inevitably, though, there are going to be times when new drivers are frustrated. Marion suggests being proactive: “If you’re frustrated, don’t hold that voice. Do something with that voice. Find somebody you know — your mentor or your driver liaison — who can help you figure out what the issue is and why it’s happening.”
Use the Student Liaisons
Once a student transitions to first seat at PAM, they are assigned a driver manager as well as a student liaison. Marion can’t say enough good things about the student liaisons. “I strongly encourage people to take advantage of them,” she says. “I have had some tremendous experiences where people have gotten off my truck, had trouble with co-drivers or trouble with equipment, and been able to get it worked out,” she says. “And that’s what the student liaisons are all about. They’re there for the drivers.”
“Communication is one of the most important aspects of the job,” says Marion. “You need to communicate in a responsible adult manner with your driver manager.”
She recommends two simple things you can do to communicate better and help foster a good relationship with your driver manager. In the first place, let them know if something comes up that could affect your delivery or availability. For instance, if you get caught in sleet, snow, or a traffic jam, send your driver manager a quick message — even if it hasn’t yet affected your end time.
Second, don’t neglect your daily check call. It’s your opportunity to tell the planners you’re available, which means you’ll receive freight more quickly.
“If you keep that communication going,” says Marion, “it tells your driver manager you’re a responsible driver. When they need to look for somebody to get a load moved or a sweet load — you know, like Cali or something like that — you’re the person they’re going to go to.”
A big part of becoming successful as a first-seat driver is starting to think proactively. Look at your run times and figure out how much time it’s going to take to get from point A to point B. “I estimate fifty miles an hour, a half hour for fuel, half hour for breaks, half hour for pre-trip,” counsels Marion.
Once you have those times figured out, communicate your estimate to your driver manager. “Once you start figuring out those times, you start to show your driver manager that, ‘Hey, you can make your loads on time. You’re responsible,’” observes Marion. “That’s when things will start flowing smoothly.”
The Benefits of Being a Driver Mentor
Marion’s been working the PAM driver mentor program and has seen definite benefits as far as finances are concerned. “Can’t complain about the pay!” she exclaims. “I’m banking money. I kind of like that about being a mentor; you can do that.”
But it’s not all about the pay. Being a driver mentor is about much more than extra money in the bank — it’s an opportunity for personal growth and a chance to help other drivers. “The support that I’ve gotten from PAM has allowed me to grow as a driver,” explains Marion. “It’s allowed me to grow as a person. It has allowed me to be able to take somebody else who started out brand new, help them get through, and help them become a first-seat driver.
“You know,” she continues. “I kind of think I might be a PAM lifer. I really, really do because I haven’t been shown anything that doesn’t give me 100% faith in the company that I work for and the people that I work with.”