PAM dedicated driver Erika Alvarez never thought she’d be sitting behind the wheel of a Peterbilt rig. But with a little encouragement – and more than a little prodding – from her family and friends, she decided to step out of her comfort zone into a new career in transportation.
“To be honest, driving a truck was really scary at first,” Erika says. “My biggest fear was that I could seriously hurt someone if I was in an accident. What if someone cuts in front of me while I’m making a turn?”
Erika overcame her fears, thanks to the PAM Driver Mentor Program. When student drivers come on board at PAM, they spend a minimum of two weeks driving “second seat” with a Driver Mentor. Once their mentor determines they’re ready for “first seat” and they pass their tests, they’re ready to become solo drivers.
“We take up a lot of room in those big trucks,” Erika says. “But my mentor, Vicki, was so patient with me. She helped me face those fears and helped me realize that I can do this. I just have to pay attention and keep my eyes open.”
Benefits of Mentorship
Experienced drivers can become Driver Mentors at PAM, giving them the chance to earn additional road miles while they help train the next generation. For PAM Lease Purchase Operator (LPO) driver, Vicki Fowler, mentoring brings its own rewards in helping drivers like Erika grow their careers.
“At first, Erika was a bit intimidated because this is known as a male-dominated industry,” Vicki says. “But we have lots of women drivers at PAM, and we’re showing men we can do this! This job takes training and skill. Nobody, male or female, was born knowing how to drive a truck.”
Erika said as she began learning the rules of the road from Vicki, her confidence grew with every mile, once she learned to focus on her driving, rather than her fears.
“Vicki taught me you can’t dwell too much about what can go wrong,” Erika says. “She was 100 percent real, you know? She was straight with me if I made a mistake. But she never got mad. When I was ready to drive on my own, she told me to picture her sitting next to me if I got scared.”
One of Erika’s biggest challenges was mastering the technique of driving a full load up a hill, especially when having to stop on a hill, then start again.
“When you are hauling a heavy load up a hill, if you stop, the truck can turn off on you. Currently I’m driving a manual and mastering the clutch was hard. But Vicki helped me master those hills, even with a heavy load.”
“Vicki just talks you through it. I’ve learned so much from her because she cares a lot.”
Mentors Learn From Mentees
Vicki says she’s also benefited from the Driver Mentor Program, including the chance to build long-lasting relationships.
“My mentees are like my family,” Vicki says. “When we’re on break and I come home, I give them the option to stay at my house if they don’t want to sleep in the truck. I try to get as much home time as I can with my family, and as far as I’m concerned, every mentee is part of that family.”
Vicki says she’s learned a great deal from mentoring drivers like Erika.
“Being a mentor has shown me my own strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “I learn just as much from them as I teach!”
Advice for Mentees
Vicki’s training approach is to treat every new driver with respect. While mentees are still learning, they’re also contributing to the driving team.
“When I get extra runs and miles by teaming with a mentee, I split the extra money with them,” Vicki says. “They’re working just as hard as I am. The way I see it, I wouldn’t have that extra money without them.”
But make no mistake, Vicki has many miles of trucking knowledge after nearly eight years on the road. Every mentee who drives second seat with Vicki learns what it takes to step into the first seat.
Here are just a few of Vicki’s rules of the road:
- Avoid truck stops with too many amenities: “Those places can make you lazy, because it’s just too easy to spend too much time there.”
- Finish loads early to make more money: “You may need 500 miles to complete a run, but you have until tomorrow to finish. Go ahead and finish that run early, so you can take another run.”
- You got this ladies: “You can still be a tiny, fragile little thing and you can still climb into this truck – as long as you’re attentive to your driving and to what’s around you.”
- Look professional: “Guys, don’t walk around in your flip flops and your five o’clock shadow. When you’re on the road, you’re representing PAM.”
- Avoid taking too many breaks: “Rest when you need to, but don’t lollygag around. If you show PAM you can hustle, they’ll keep you going!”
Learn More About the Driver Mentor Program
“I never expected to do this job well,” Erika says. “But my mentor Vicki was amazing. She just told me, ‘You’ve got this.’ And I do.”
Whether you’re just getting your CDL or you’ve always thought about driving a truck, the PAM Driver Mentor Program provides the best equipment and the tools you need to master the skills of truck driving.
“If you want to be a mentor, all you need is driving experience and the safety knowledge to pass onto new drivers,” Vicki says. “PAM management will give you all the tools you need to get started.”