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What It Takes to Work Here: UPS


It takes a virtual village -- and a high-tech obstacle course -- to raise a Big Brown driver.

Becoming a UPS (UPS) driver, or, in company parlance, a DSP (for "driver service provider"), takes an extraordinary amount of training before they let you behind the wheel of a big brown truck, or in company parlance, a "package car."

The shipping giant has guidelines and rules in place that turn every delivery into a carefully choreographed ballet -- drivers are expected to walk at a brisk pace (2.5 paces per second); to make as many right turns as possible (it's been reported that approximately 90% of all turns made by UPS package cars are right turns), which, in 2007, reduced overall delivery driving by 30 million miles, saved 3 million gallons of gas, and reduced CO2 emissions by 32,000 metric tons; and to carry their keys on their ring finger, which puts the key into optimal position for the index finger and thumb to turn the ignition in one swift motion with no wasted energy or time.

In 2007, UPS opened a $34 million, 11,500-square-foot facility for new hires in Landover, Maryland, called Integrad, which teaches new recruits the tricks of the trade.

Elizabeth Rasberry, a UPS spokesperson, told Minyanville that "we began to notice our younger generation of drivers weren't responding as well to our traditional lecture-based training. So we did research, interviewed experienced drivers, new drivers, management, and worked with Virginia Tech, MIT, and Georgia Tech to design a program that would let people learn by doing."

Rasberry says that 85% of the week-long course is hands-on.

"We teach them how to get on and off the package car using the 'three points of contact' method," she says. "It's one hand on the handrail, one foot on the ground, and one foot on the step."

UPS has electronic sensors on the steps and handrails to measure the pressure and force trainees use when entering and exiting their vehicles.

"If they get on the car without using the handrail," Rasberry explains, "a computer printout shows them how less pressure on the handrail takes more effort and is harder on the joints. Over a number of years, it's equivalent to the weight of a cruise ship on your body."

Rasberry describes another vehicle equipped with cameras and a see-through side, which is where recruits practice lifting and lowering packages.

"Cameras record all their movements," Rasberry says. "That way, the instructor can show them whether they're doing it right or not. He or she can say, 'Look at the curvature of your back; you should be doing it this way instead.' "

There's also a simulated curb where the students learn the proper way to get a dolly up onto the sidewalk.

Then there's the Slip-and-Fall station.

"Trainees are harnessed in on a track, where they walk over different substances while carrying packages, to simulate real world situations," Rasberry says. "We have them put shoes over their shoes which are slick on the bottom to stress the importance of proper footwear."

"A hair salon may have hair spray on the floor, so we'll cover the track with hairspray," Rasberry says. "An auto-repair shop may have oil on the floor, so we'll cover the track with oil. You're taught to widen your stance, straighten your gait, open up your legs, walk upright. We can't control the weather, we deliver to places with oily floors, and we try to simulate that as best we can."

At the back of room are individual computers, where students don headphones and watch an avatar driver, while a voiceover gives them instructions.

"There's a touch screen where they have to point out hazards -- a dog walking across the street, a low hanging billboard, a construction zone," Rasberry says. "One of the key findings during our research was the concept of immediate feedback, which helps Generation Y a lot, as that's what they're accustomed to."

Outside is the integration station, or "Clarksville," a simulated town where all the lessons come together.

"When they have on that brown uniform, there's a lot of pride associated with that, a lot of trust associated with that," Rasberry says. "Knowing the responsibility that comes with that uniform is very important. So we've got four vehicles, a simulated street, a simulated house to simulate a residential delivery, simulated stores to simulate a commercial delivery. Instructors may throw a football in front of a package car while it's in motion to simulate what happens in the real world. There's a loading dock to practice backing up; students have a certain number of tasks they have to complete in a certain time frame."

A second Integrad facility will open up this summer outside Chicago to serve the Midwest, with more on the way.

So, the next time you see a UPS employee delivering a package, remember: They aren't just delivering a package. They're delivering that package like no one else in the world can -- except other UPS drivers.

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