Displeased that some 30% of driver candidates flunk its traditional books and classroom training, United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) is convinced that 20-somethings (average age for UPS drivers) respond best to high-tech instruction and an opportunity to hone skills. Driver training is crucial for Atlanta-based UPS, which employs 99,000 U.S. drivers and expects to hire 25,000 over the next five years to replace retiring Baby Boomers. Candidates vying for a driver’s job, which can pay an average of $74,000 annually, now spend one week at Integrad, a UPS training center practicing the company’s “340 Methods,” prescribed by UPS industrial engineers to save seconds and improve safety in every task from lifting and loading boxes to selecting a package from a shelf in the truck. Students play a videogame that places them in the driver’s seat and has them identify obstacles. They progress from computer simulations to “Clarksville,” a village of miniature houses and faux businesses on the property where they drive a real truck and must successfully execute five deliveries in 19 minutes. So far, the new methods, designed by UPS and researchers from Virginia Tech, are proving successful, UPS says. Of the 1,629 trainees who have completed Integrad since it began as an experiment in 2007, only 10% have failed the training program, which takes a total of six weeks overall and includes 30 days driving a truck in the real world. UPS is known for promoting within, and many driver candidates began as UPS package handlers or other employees.
UPS isn’t the only company using new training tools. Food service company Sodexo Inc. has recruited chefs through “Second Life” virtual job fairs and Cisco Systems Inc.(CISCO) has taught programming techniques through videogames. FedEx Corp. says it, too, has moved toward more hands-on learning in the past five years, although it adds the change wasn’t prompted by a high failure rate among trainees.