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How did you turn from a zero to a hero in programming?
TL;DRWhat follows is basically my life story. You may not be interested in it, and it doesn’t really contain what one would consider general advice for beginner programmers, so I’ll add some stuff here for you.Suggestions:Don’t program alone. Cooperate with somebody else, preferably more experienced than you. That person can act as your mentor and guide in programming, especially in the topic of your current project.Learn on the job. Get an idea for a project, then learn what you need to realise it. The more ambitious your project, the more you learn. This sort of “exploit learning” is very pragmatic.Long StoryThere are a few answers by self-taught programmers and the like here. I’m also a self-taught programmer - although the main impetus for me to learn programming was me crashing and burning in my Class 9 Computer Applications first terminal examination. My parents arranged for a tutor for me - who was there for me throughout the 2 years I officially studied programming, and is nearly wholly responsible for me being a programmer today.People will tell you to take courses online, solve problems from websites, etc. : the whole “conventional” shenanigan. It works for most people, and it might work for you too. In my case, however, I had to go about it a different way (I tried following CS50x on edX last summer, and I couldn’t complete even the first lecture, although I would like to ascribe that to a lack of time in that regard as my institute is relentless when it comes to academics).I started with learning Java as my curriculum required me to. I understood none of it. I struggled. Finally, my tutor provided me a guiding light into the (then) quagmire of programming. At that time, I did not know what the code I was writing meant, because we hadn’t been taught about it. My tutor took care of that. Once I started to understand what I was writing, I got quite a bit better at programming, and started to supplement my learning from other sources (at that time, mostly books I borrowed from the school library).One high point in our otherwise drab school programming course were the biyearly projects. In class 9, I wrote a simple calculator for the first term. It could do any of 10 operations on 2 numbers and print the result. I was ecstatic and showed it off to everybody, and their appreciation drove me to greater heights.For the final term, I wrote a simple number-guessing game. To make it somewhat different, I implemented difficulty levels. This illustrated my knowledge of various looping constructs in Java.In class 10, I started feeling the limitations of BlueJ, our curriculum-mandated IDE for Java, and was looking around for better options. I got my hands on Eclipse first (very bad idea, in retrospect), and quickly took my hands off it; never to touch another IDE again for quite some time.For class 10’s first term, I took another stab at the calculator. This time was bigger and better. Much better. Full support for parenthesized expressions, forty different operations, BigIntegers et al. Not to forget memory functions. I was impressed with it, and so was my school teacher. I was slowly outgrowing my tutor by this phase. For the first time I crossed the 90% barrier in my computer applications examinations.I went looking for a better IDE again. This time, I got NetBeans. I liked it. I loved it. it changed my life. I was no longer afraid of going big, I knew brother NetBeans would have my back. I wrote my first GUI program at around this time. It worked, but I didn’t understand how it worked. Gave up trying to understand it. I continued learning on my own. I had more questions than my tutor or teacher could help me with at this point. I went from hating, to being indifferent towards, to liking, to finally loving programming. It became my favorite pastime.For class 10’s final term, my last project for purely academic reasons, I was not given freedom. I was asked to implement an inventory management system. I worked on it, and even planned on incorporating a GUI. That idea was scrapped later, as I couldn’t figure out how JPanes worked. I then realised that I could still make a great program if I left the UI alone and concentrated on features. That philosophy has stayed with me to date. That program was a roaring success - create, update, query, delete records, stored procedures, import/export, user authentication - everything except the kitchen sink was thrown in there. That is another of my programming bad habits - I never know when to stop putting in more features, as long as I can keep implementing them. I managed a 99/100 in CA in my 10 boards, which unfortunately wasn’t the highest in my school :P.My school did not allow taking both CS and Biology in +2, so I gave up on academic CS at that point, as by that point it was an established fact that our school had grossly substandard CS faculty when compared to Biology. I worked on random stuff from time to time. I wrote a GUI Sudoku app, teaching myself the basics of Swing. Some time later, I was gifted my first Android phone, and I wanted to make an app for it. I learnt the basics of Android. I wrote Conway’s Game of Life as an app, and it worked nice! I used Eclipse with ADT - that worked not so nice. Then Google released Android Studio, and made my life a it better. I wrote second Android app using Android Studio, and it was a much better experience than the first. This time too it was Conway’s Game of Life - but now as a live wallpaper; this marked my first exposure to multithreading. I didn’t understand it. This also exposed me to designing GUIs by hand instead of using a form designer supplied by the IDE, and that greatly helped me with my reluctance of all things GUI.This was the time I started to embrace the API, instead of fearing it - which my school curriculum had made me do (inadvertently?). I went through the API docs. I stayed with Java. Never bothered broadening my horizons. This was also about the time I heard of IntelliJ Idea, and I left my big bro NetBeans and switched over (NetBeans has very poor support for Android development compared to Idea, and at that time I was concerned about Android development). I have stuck with Idea for more than 3 years now, and I haven’t been disappointed once. It has been a rock-solid foundation for all my work.I learned about fractals, and wanted to write my own program to generate them. That was realised in the middle of Class 12, and the program is still a work in progress, being continued 2 and a half years later. It is by far my largest project ever, at about 16,000 SLOC. It is cool. It sparked my interest in everything Java - copious multithreading, generics, serialization - and made a better programmer by and by.I learnt about GitHub, and started using it. Life became easier with source control. I host all of my real projects there.I started to warm up to StackOverflow (read: stop posting questions and try to find answers). I also discovered nicer SE sites, like PPCG, Android, Worldbuilding and Code Review. As a result of haunting the interwebs, my knowledge and my desire for knowledge grew. It was insatiable. My feeds were full of programming stuff. I read every bit of them. I outgrew my fear of other programming languages, and I found Scala. I find it every bit as beautiful as Lisp or Haskell - and I love the magic in its compiler. Idea supports me in that.I came to college. One course was compulsory and taught us C. I got Code::Blocks, gcc, and finally moved on to Visual Studio, because the workflow in CB wasn’t my style. I soon became fluent in C, thanks to the years of haunting the programming fora and resources.I wrote another Android app. This time with Idea. It worked, and was as painless as they came. I wrote games and simulators in Scala. They all worked.I learnt me some Haskell for the greater good. I loved it, all its mathematical g(l)ory.This year, I got a commission as a freelancer, without having asked for it or advertised myself anywhere. The project was in C# and C. I delivered on it last week. I’m still moving forward.You can find me and my code on https://www.github.com/tamchow
What is long-haul trucker training like?
My own experience (which was actually early in 2016) is much like what was described by User. The major difference on my end is that I went through CR England’s “Premier” CDL school. CR England actually has a pretty bad - okay, very bad - reputation around the OTR community, but it has a lot more to do with trainers not wanting to earn their trainer pay, or otherwise certain DM’s allowing some of their drivers with insufficient knowledge and experience to become trainers as well. Regardless of the company’s reputation, it ultimately is a case of YMMV, as far as each newcomer’s experience will be. Aside from the starting pay (which I expected anyway), my own experience really hasn’t been bad at all, overall.To start with, CR England and many other “mega carriers” who operate their own CDL schools will fund your unpaid training for you in return for employment with them for a minimum length of time. In my case, I already knew what I was getting into with CR England - numerous bad reviews and all - but I still had my own reasons for choosing to attend their school. For one, I wanted the training facility to be close enough to my home in Southern California that I could commute daily between my home and the school. I also didn’t want to worry about where to park my tractor when doing home time, so I picked a company that I knew did a lot of freight in my area and which has a terminal nearby that I could call my “home terminal”. In fact, I used to pass right by their Colton terminal on a regular basis, so I already knew exactly where “work” would become. I had a friend who is a CMV driver recommend Robertson’s, which is a concrete company seen all over SoCal. I took a look at them, but had a few main concerns:I was more interested in getting a Class A license rather than Class B.Robertson’s pays Class B drivers better than they pay Class A driversThey required a 2-yr employment contractThe training required to drive regular cement trucks is twice as long as their Class A (all double grain hopper type trailers) trainingWhile I understand why Robertson’s specifically pays Class B drivers more than Class A drivers, it also defies logic to me when a Class A driver can use his/her CDL to operate Class B equipment, but Class B drivers cannot operate Class A equipment. So, why should they get paid better? Also, a “Doubles/Triples” endorsement is required to pull 2+ trailers simultaneously, which is itself beyond what just any CDL-A driver is allowed to do. Ultimately though, I just didn’t want to get locked into a 2yr employment contract if it turned out I would have a problem with that particular employer.Plenty of other drivers will say nothing but bad things about CR England - many for legitimately good reasons of their own, and others only because of things they hear from former employees, but my contract with them was only 6 months. They normally require 9-month contracts, but they give veterans like myself 6-month deals. Also, they have a wide array of routes they focus on. Their Nationwide OTR fleets do routes to anywhere in the 48 CONUS states. One can also transfer into one of many Dedicated Regional fleets, Local fleets and/or Intermodal fleets. I’ve always been one to try to see the bigger picture in everything, and always have a long-term goal in mind. Between the minimal contract length, terminal and CDL school proximities to my home, my lack of interest in paying my own way through a school that won’t even guarantee employment, among others…I ended up deciding on the CR England route. With that out of the way, what was my actual experience with their CDL school and training program like? Read on…Their CDL school takes only 17 days to complete. It’s very fast-paced, and every day has a very specific area of focus. The first day or two involves “inprocessing” (just like any veteran has experience with), which includes filling out forms, seeing the doctor, dealing with admin types (or, as many of us who come from USAF aircraft maintenance backgrounds, “Nonners”), etc. The entire first week is spent exclusively in an academic/classroom setting. The closest you come to touching any of the trucks/trailers is the first day, when you are required to demonstrate to the doctor that you can duck walk under the trailer without difficulty, and that you can safely enter and exit the trailer’s interior. They’ll teach you the proper way to climb in and out of the trailer, but they do expect you to be capable of doing it safely on your own, once taught.The first couple of days are spent learning all of the questions/answers to the CLP (Commercial Learner’s Permit) tests. There are 3 tests which students must take, and at least in the case of CR England’s Fontana, CA school, they take all of the first week students to the DMV on Wednesday. So, all day Monday and Tuesday are spent focusing on the CLP tests and preparing everybody to pass them. The instructor there wasn’t about to waste time explaining the logic behind why each question had a certain correct answer, but then the training material they provide does cover at least some of that info anyway. The 3 tests are General Driving, Air Brakes, and - for Class A vehicles - the Combination Vehicles test. You must pass all three tests before the DMV will issue you a CLP. The CR England school in Fontana specifically sets aside Wednesdays for permit testing because the DMV requires permit holders to have their permit for 14+ days before they are eligible to test for their CDL. Now you should probably have an idea of why the class is 17 days long, and why a specific day is used for permit testing.The rest of Week 1 (includes Saturday) is spent going over a number of academic and safety topics. Safety is above and beyond the single most important aspect of driving a truck - or doing any other type of industrial work. Attention to details is extremely critical. Be prepared to take as many notes as you can, and don’t ask the instructor any questions that can otherwise be answered the following week by one of the yard instructors, or by whoever becomes your trainer once you actually have your license, get hired, and are in a position to start getting paid. Pick up every important detail possible. They really do take safety VERY seriously - and for very good reason. However, they also take speeding students through the pipeline seriously, so don’t plan on slowing that process down at all without getting a lot of attitude for it. Just keep your mouth shut as much as possible while still in the classroom, understand the importance of attention to details and making quick, accurate decisions, and accept the fact this is just part of the required process that will provide you with a means to an end. To be honest, given my own military background, I completely understand and agree with the Attention To Detail/Situational Awareness concerns as well as getting students acquainted with making quick decisions. What do you think is going to happen once you’re actually driving a truck down the road, where any number of things can go wrong - and you lack both the ability to accelerate, decelerate, or easily avoid sudden problems like you can often do in a POV? Staying alert to every detail possible, having escape routes planned out before you even need to use them, and being able to react very quickly in exactly the manner you should have already rehearsed in your head are of extreme importance. How do you avoid losing control on wet or slippery roads? How do you regain control if any combination of tires on the truck and/or trailer does slip/skid? How do you avoid overheating your brakes on downhill grades (which often also results in fires that can damage/destroy equipment and freight)? Ironically, the vast majority of trucking accidents that are actually caused by truckers themselves happen at low speeds. It’s usually caused by failure to abide by fundamental rules of trucking - some of which another Quoran already added:ALWAYS watch your tandems (trailer tires). If you’re turning at all, your trailer WILL off-track. Just because your tractor can clear an obstacle or another vehicle, it doesn’t mean your trailer(s) can too. Fundamental rule here is, if you lose sight of your tandems…STOP!!!! Back up if you must. If traffic behind you won’t allow you to back up…sit there as long as necessary to back up safely, then reposition yourself or make whatever other changes need to be made to do everything safely. Speaking of this, there is an on-ramp to I-10 right there in Colton which trucks often try to use when leaving the Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club DC located right behind CR England’s Colton terminal. Specifically, trucks traveling north on Rancho Ave will attempt to get onto the I-10E on-ramp - then get stuck on the barrier there because they failed to abide by this simple rule - as well as how to properly prepare for such a turn. It’s not illegal for trucks to make this turn, but the city of Colton strongly discourages the practice by posting yellow (non-mandatory, caution only) signs in a few different locations along the route between the DC and that on-ramp. Wreckers are dispatched to that location regularly because of truckers who fail to abide by this fundamental rule. It happens so often, that there is an entire section of “stuck truck” pictures posted to one of the Colton groups on Facebook. The album gets updated frequently too - almost always of trucks making the same mistake at that same intersection.Always GOAL when backing. GOAL is a trucking acronym for “Get Out And Look”. Pay close attention to all the trucks you see on the road. Ever see any with busted headlight lenses and/or missing/damaged bumpers, or mirrors? If so, chances are great they are the victim of careless truck stop maneuvering by another driver. Most of those are caused during backing, where the driver either wasn’t paying attention to important details, saw something wrong but tried to force things anyway, or was otherwise just too lazy to get out of their seat, get out and be absolutely certain that they wouldn’t hit anybody else. Imagine the time that gets wasted and the damage to your own driving record if you caused damage (and possibly also lost driving time and money to the other driver) just because of your careless or negligent actions. Don’t try to flee before anybody can catch you either. Many drivers (myself included) keep dash cams mounted and recording 24/7. Most locations where such incidents occur also have their own surveillance cameras installed. So trust me…even if you think nobody saw it…its best to assume that somebody or something actually did see and/or record it, and that it definitely will catch back up with you eventually.Once Week 1 is complete, the rest of the CDL school time is spent either in the training yard or on local roads and freeways themselves. It starts first with more fundamentals - reviewing how to do Pre-Trip Inspections (which are required daily, and must be documented on logs), a demonstration of how to couple and uncouple from a trailer, basic safety practices that are expected of you, among others. Once that is complete, they’ll go over basic backing skills. DMV’s seem to be changing their requirements now, or at least that seems to be the case with people I pick up now who were trained at other CR England CDL school locations, but the basic backing skills that must be demonstrated on all DMV-certified CDL tests areBacking in a straight line (keeping the trailer behind your tractor, and keeping it inside a specified area)Offset backing (like being setup for a straight line backing when you really want to back into an adjacent spot)Parallel parking (very similar to Offset Backing during actual maneuvers, but with a specific setup desired)When I went through the Fontana school, they also taught - and tested 50% of the class on - Alley Docking. I have yet to pick up another driver in recent months who was also trained at the Fontana school, so I don’t know if Alley Docking is still taught there. But I do know that people I pick up from our main terminal in Salt Lake City all say they didn’t receive any Alley Dock training at all. I think that’s a bad thing too, and it isn’t CR England’s fault at all. You have to keep in mind that while in CDL school, their focus is exclusively on teaching safety, logging, HOS rules, etc. and on preparing students to pass the DMV test. Learning all of the “real world” things you really need to learn for practical use is the responsibility of your trainer, after you’ve already passed the DMV test and are officially hired. Unfortunately, there is a gap between what DMVs want to see, and how things work in the real world. Sure, there are basic details you can watch for with each of the above backing procedures in most situations, but even then…I throw almost all of it out the window, outside of backing in a straight line. Alley docking is otherwise the most difficult to do, and certain aspects that make effective Alley Dock maneuvers also apply in most “real world” backing scenarios. You can’t do a straight line back if there isn’t enough “vertical” space between the front of the “hole” you want to back into and the nearest obstacle (usually the front of another tractor) that might be parked across the lane from your desired spot. If there isn’t enough room to straight back, there definitely isn’t enough room to offset back. Parallel parking actually can be useful in some cases, when either parking on a street or even in certain rest areas where the only truck parking available is along one curb or another. But honestly, a 45–45 setup (trailer is setup 45* from the desired hole, assuming the hole is perpendicular to the travel lane, and the tractor is setup 45* from the trailer) or similar method is far more often than not the best way to safely and easily get into most parking spots and dock doors. So, just plan on learning backing fundamentals ONLY while in CDL school, then hope and pray that whoever you get as a trainer actually has a really good idea of how to perform and teach backing in real world situations from there. In CDL school, it’s more about the techniques and tactics that are used themselves and not so much the maneuvers as a whole that are important to learn.Once they’ve taught everybody in the class all of the basic backing maneuvers and each student has also had a chance to try out each maneuver once (and only once), they’ll move on to other things, like getting you out on local roads - teaching you how to safely turn left and right at intersections of various sizes, making sure you are constantly doing regular traffic checks in every direction possible, reading, understanding and obeying every sign possible, basic upshifting and downshifting, etc. Eventually, you’ll end up on local freeways, where you’ll get taught even more things. If you have access to a school that is close enough to an area with steep grades nearby, you might even get a chance to do uphill and downhill grade training while still in the school. I don’t know anybody from CR England who received grade training during CDL school though, unless - like me - they went to the Fontana school specifically. The Fontana school, particularly, is close enough to the Cajon Pass that taking students up and down the pass is part of the regularly scheduled curriculum. Those who were trained in Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and elsewhere apparently don’t have such easy access to steep grades, however, so their first experiences ever with steep grades usually don’t come until after they’ve already passed their CDL test and are on their trainer’s truck.Once the CDL school process is complete, students take turns being evaluated by DMV-certified yard instructors. In other words, some of the company’s own yard instructors are also certified by the DMV to proctor the CDL tests. DMV offices themselves have limited staff and a very large number of drivers seeking CDLs (at least in SoCal), and there is no way possible for them to keep up with the demand industry-wide for more CDL drivers. So, most of the mega carriers apply for and receive exemptions which allow them to get some of their own instructors certified to administer the exams. The DMV does, however, audit at least one student from every group shortly after all students have already tested. This is a check-and-balance procedure to ensure that the company’s proctors are actually training - and fairly evaluating - students and not just pencil-whipping them. The other exception/exemption you might read about elsewhere on the Internet - and which many longer-time drivers mistakenly misinterpret - is the one involving students who pass their CDL exam, but whom reside outside the state which they did their CDL test in. I now train recent CDL school graduates myself, and as an example…one of the students I trained is from Illinois, but he did his CDL training and passed the DMV test in Salt Lake City. Another also did his test in SLC, but is a legal resident of Florida. In my own case, I tested in the same state that I reside in, so I was able to get my real CDL immediately. But for those who don’t live in the same state they test in, what they end up with is a CLP (which usually expires within a few months) and a packet of documents which they must take to a DMV in the state they actually live in. Since they don’t legally have a CDL yet in such cases, the exemption allows them to drive - for pay - with their one-on-one trainer and only a CLP in hand until they can get under a load that will take them into or through their home state so they can completely the CDL acquisition process. I can’t speak of what other companies do, but CR England does require its trainers to ride in the front seat with students at all times throughout training. The only exception is when the student is just driving the truck down a long Interstate, with little or nothing new to teach for that particular situation (assuming it’s already been taught). Otherwise, the trainer is expected to be up front and watching anytime the trainee is on an on-ramp, off-ramp, driving on any city streets, or in a parking lot.Unfortunately, some trainers care only about using their students as “cash cows”. Those are the trainers who care exclusively about how big their paychecks are and not at all about what their trainees actually learn. They often will even take on two trainees simultaneously, which the company does allow. There are some pros and cons to having two trainees in the truck though, but I’ll get to that issue shortly. It doesn’t take much for those trainers to be discovered by other drivers, DMs and others in the management chain alike. In my own case, I already had quite a solid skillset and previous experiences to make learning how to operate a combo truck easy. It definitely helped a lot more knowing I got exactly the kind of trainer I wanted to have though. The driver who trained me had nearly 20 years of CDL-A experience, and he taught me a lot of “tricks of the trade” as well as WHY things can, should, or must be done the way they’re done. He was very thorough, which truly set me up for success. But once I graduated off of his truck and ended up as a “second seater” on somebody else’s truck, it turned out the other driver - who had only 2–3 months more experience than me - didn’t have the first clue how to document and send out TripPaks - which we MUST send, at least at CR England, if we want to get paid. He also didn’t have any clue which macros needed to be done, or which macro numbers corresponded with which task on the onboard Qualcomm (QCOM) unit. Think of how stupid a trainer must look when his trainee eventually gets his own truck, then proves that he/she knows much less than somebody who just recently finished being trained by somebody else - whom actually did a thorough job. Think of how stupid a trainer looks as well when I see another driver from the same company dealing with a “dropped trailer” immediately after picking up a load from the same facility I was picking up from simultaneously. Or when I stop what I’m doing to assist that driver, advise her to “drop your air bags” because her co-driver (who trained with her simultaneously on the same truck with the same trainer) had already lowered the landing gear sufficiently to allow the trailer to safely support itself, then hear “How do I do that?” from said driver. It is my opinion that every trainee should graduate off their trainer’s truck already knowing every single function/control that can be operated within the unit, and when or how the use of each is necessary or ideal. When I see obvious evidence of poor training like that, I don’t hesitate to point out the problem to one of the Training Coordinators (TC’s). My employer already has a bad enough reputation among the trucking community. Neither I nor the company needs trainers like that perpetuating those concerns, and I sure don’t want other drivers to assume I’m no different as a trainer myself because of “bad eggs” like them.Going back to the two trainees on a truck system, or as the company calls the Take Two program. Sleeping arrangements are difficult at best, since it’s illegal to be in the upper bunk while the truck is moving. You also aren’t supposed to ever sleep in the jump seat either, since it’s the same type of seat as the driver’s seat. If you get used to falling asleep in one, the chances of you falling asleep in the other - while driving - are greater. As a positive for trainees though, it often becomes a competition to see who can develop their skills more quickly and get to their minimum driving hours requirement sooner, which can be a good thing. On the other hand, differences in personal hygiene habits and mannerisms can also frustrate everybody involved to the point where trainees will even get in fist fights with each other as a result. On the trainer’s end, having two trainees in the truck means far less driving for themself. The only driving they generally do (unless they’re being selfish) is during the hours of night at which company policy forbids trainees from driving. It’s ultimately the trainer’s discretion whether to take one or two trainees at a time, so if you end up on a two-trainee truck - or even with a trainer who won’t train you properly and/or allow you to drive enough, you can always contact your TC and request a different trainer. I actually want the people I train to get all of the knowledge and experience I can pass along to them, and I also encourage them to take over as soon as they’re legally allowed to AND they feel like they’re rested adequately to handle another full shift. Trainees get paid by the hour - and only for time they spend either driving the truck themselves, or time spent doing On Duty (not driving) tasks, like Pre-Trip and Post-Trip inspections, fueling, scaling, doing training and/or training module CBTs, etc.). The starting pay is bad enough regardless of where you go, and the last thing I want to do is play a role in you getting only a $300-$400 paycheck when you could otherwise be getting $600+. There are plenty of other trainers who also take great pride in their work, but many others either just don’t care, or they will often have severe trust issues where any mistake at all which trainees make gets them extra paranoid and unwilling to allow the trainee to do much.Ultimately, the process works well, if everybody is doing their jobs properly. YMMV, regardless of where you attend CDL school, which company you drive for, or which trainer(s) you might deal with. A great example of this is Swift Transportation. Truckers always joke about how anybody they see involved in any type of mishap was “Swift trained”. That all comes from the fact such a large number of actual mishaps somehow or another involve Swift trucks/trailers. What they don’t tell you, however, is that Swift has literally twice as many power units as the next largest mega carrier (25K+ vs JB Hunt’s 13K or so). What they also can’t tell you is that based on the FMCSA’s SAFER website data, Swift’s accident rate (total of all Fatal, Injury and/or Tow required incidents) is actually about “average” and very much inline with the ratings of other mega carriers. More trucks = more trainers = more trainers who do a very good job of training + more “cash cow” type trainers. Learn as much as you possibly can, pay attention to every detail possible, be very considerate of all other drivers, always think safety, learn how to properly handle commonly encountered situations, and it won’t matter so much which CDL school you attend, or which company runs it. You might get an awesome trainer or you might get a completely worthless one, regardless of where you go.
Why is Nepal PM KP Oli acting with so anti-India sentiment? Is he really getting blackmailed by China?
The developments in India’s immediate neighbourhood over the past decade have led India to take a close look at her foreign and security policies. There is a widely-sensed need for the rapid modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces, which is being reflected in some of the key initiatives that have been taken up by the Indian government so far, such as ‘Make in India’, so as to address the complex security challenges that emanate from its hostile neighbourhood.However, the pace of modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces over the years has been rather slow and, technologically, they are not where they should have been. Indigenous development of modern defence hardware continues to remain a concern, and Indian policy aspiration for defence self-sufficiency remains largely elusive. The aim of the research is to highlight how the Indian Armed Forces are responding to the emerging security scenario in the region and beyond, and to address issues in defence policy-making, progress with defence modernisation and military effectiveness.The Indian defence industry suffers from major policy, structural, and cultural challenges that beset a military-industrial complex that continues to struggle in terms of delivering modern defence hardware that could have added to the greater Indian defence indigenisation and production. Experts see a number of systemic flaws in the Indian defence establishment and civil-military relations, which present major challenges for India’s military modernisation aspirations. As India’s defence requirements are likely to increase in the foreseeable future because of the dynamic security environment, indigenous development of modern defence hardware and technology is likely to remain a top priority.As India is an aspiring great power (and it is believed that great powers have great arms industries), its ability to acquire autarky and self-sufficiency, in terms of the development of advanced defence hardware and technology, to fulfil the requirements of its Armed Forces would be crucial so as to address its national security concerns. The study here shall highlight the impediments to India’s defence modernisation and its likely implications for India’s national security.India’s National Security Concerns And Defence PreparednessIndia today faces the most complex threats and challenges that range from nuclear to sub-conventional spectrum of conflict. Issues such as the unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the North-Eastern states, the growing menace of left-wing extremism and the rising threat of urban terrorism has further exacerbated India’s security environment.In the regional security milieu, it has clearly emerged that China poses the most potent military threat to India—given the advantages it has over India in nuclear, missile and military hardware. Moreover, the China-Pakistan nexus and increased strategic engagements between the two have increased the probability that India might face a two-front war in the future.Therefore, the need for augmenting defence capabilities, i.e., land, air and sea capabilities, is being largely reflected in the Indian policy towards defence modernisation today (initiatives such as ‘Make in India’) to meet the challenges that emanate from both traditional and non-traditional threats that pose severe threats to India’s national security.India’s defence industry, however, has failed to manage India’s defence requirements as of today. India is one of the largest arms importers in the world as the indigenous production of technology is one area where India continues to struggle. India’s defence preparedness, therefore, remains a question as some of the most crucial requirements in various services of the Armed Forces have not been fulfilled because of severe deficiencies in the defence industry.India’s land forces lack sophisticated weapons and armoury, the navy’s submarine fleet has dwindled down to 40 percent of the minimum requirements and the fighter squadrons are at the level of 60 percent of the mandatory need which, indeed, is a cause for concern considering the slow pace of India’s defence modernisation.Therefore, when taking into account the changing nature of threats in the emerging geopolitical scenario (also considering the changing nature of warfare with the rise of non-state actors), India has to focus on building capacity for continuous modernisation of the Armed Forces while directing it towards achieving the desired capability which will, in turn, depend on the analysis of threats.Articulating India’s Defence Needs And RequirementsIndia’s defence requirements are likely to be influenced especially by external factors such as the threats that emanate from two of its primary adversaries, i.e., Pakistan and China. Though Pakistan will continue to remain an immediate threat, China will be the major concern as China is more likely to be a medium-term threat for India, according to some observers. Therefore, India’s defence requirements are likely to be based on capabilities that cater to the larger threat, which would take adequate care of the threat from its more traditional adversary, Pakistan.As India is much more superior in conventional and strategic capabilities when compared to Pakistan, articulation of India’s defence requirements is likely to be influenced by the growing offensive capabilities of China that have been demonstrated over the years, which has created huge debates among the members of the strategic and the academic community on the need for pro-active decision making in terms of streamlining defence acquisition and procurement processes, while also focusing on indigenisation, thereby leading to the augmentation of India’s overall war deterrence.Therefore, there is a growing understanding within India’s security establishment that Indian defence modernisation and capacity building should focus on China. The need of the hour is to change the “understanding” into “urgency” in order to build a comprehensive national capability to counter any threat that arises from China or the collusive threat of China and Pakistan.Given India’s current deficiencies in the Armed Forces, there is an imperative for India to focus on the development of advanced and sophisticated weapons system for various platforms of combat, i.e., land, sea, and air, and ensure necessary integration within the services of the Armed Forces as well as intelligence organisations to ensure an effective and a viable response to the threats that emanate in the immediate regional security environment.There is a need to make a thorough assessment of the security threats and accordingly articulate the needs of the services of the Armed Forces and take necessary steps to procure advanced weapons system that, in turn, will augment India’s national power. Before looking into what are India’s defence requirements, the next section discusses the challenges that India faces in its defence industry.Issues In India’s Defence ModernisationIndia faces a whole range of complex challenges in its defence modernisation aspirations, which are aimed at containing the threats that it perceives to be having severe implications for its national security. Looking into the current capacities of India’s defence industry, it is not hard to say that many observers remain dismissive of the same and have proposed a number of reforms aimed at bolstering India’s defence production capabilities, thereby achieving self-reliance in building such capabilities and streamlining India’s defence procurement procedures for lesser procedural delays in acquiring advanced weapons system.As India is one of the largest importers of arms in the world, its over-dependency over other countries for sophisticated weapons system for the services of the Armed Forces is likely to affect negatively India’s aspirations of becoming a great power. It is widely believed that great powers are supposed to have a great arms industries. The challenges that India’s defence industry today faces in terms of producing and procuring advanced weapons system to fulfil the requirements of the services of the Armed Forces are immense and need critical examination. The issues that India faces today are hereby discussed one by one.Self-Reliance And Enduring ChallengesIndia’s defence industrial policy during the initial years of its independence was guided by the phrase ‘self-sufficiency’. This was subsequently modified to ‘self-reliance’ in defence production, and now it has long been a fundamental goal of indigenous armaments production in India. However, India’s heavy dependence on arms imports has been a matter of concern for parliamentarians, oversight agencies, policy makers and defence analysts.India’s inability to meet its own defence needs through indigenous production (The two flagship programs Main Battle Tank Arjun and Light Combat Aircraft Tejas are examples where the Indian defence research organisations have gone through several production delays and cost-overruns.) is drawing wider concerns over the challenges that the Indian defence industry has been going through in terms of being efficient, productive and more capable in research and development (R&D) of advanced weapons system and defence technology. The targets that have been set over the years have not been achieved, and that raises questions about the ability of India’s defence industry to produce weapons system and defence technology to meet the requirements of the services of the Armed Forces.There is an urgent need for the government to focus on the indigenous production of defence hardware and technology by carefully articulating long-term strategic plans to augment India’s military power. As India is a rising power with a huge economic base, India has to look beyond the buyer-seller relationship that had almost become a feature of its defence industrial policy, and should instead develop means to produce advanced weapons system and defence technology indigenously.The policy priority for the Indian defence establishment should be to ensure that India maximises its indigenous production so that the quantitative requirements of the Armed Forces are met while also ensuring quality in the variety of defence equipment and items that should be made available to meet the ever-increasing demand of the services of the Armed Forces with rapid changes in technology. The need of the hour is to increase the budget allocation for defence R&D and utilise the manpower in its defence laboratories to promote research for advances in defence equipment, hardware, and technology. These practical steps would ensure that India meets the demands of the time, and is in continued possession of cutting-edge defence technology as a result of indigenous production by its defence industry.Decision-Making and National Security StrategyWhile looking into India’s present defence status, there has been a long ongoing debate on what are the impediments to India’s defence modernisation pace, which, in turn, has been severely affecting India’s ability to enhance its defence capabilities. As threats to India’s national security are both traditional and non-traditional, effective defence preparedness is the key to secure its national interests, which would depend on the ability to produce and procure advanced, sophisticated weapons and high-tech technological devices in order to ensure that the services of the Armed Forces and their requirements are fulfilled, which would enhance India’s war capabilities, naturally augmenting its military power.The decision-making in India in national security and strategic matters have been however projected to be slow and complex because of the hierarchical structure of the decision-making process, which affects India’s ability to produce and procure weapons on time, which, in turn, affects India’s defence preparedness. Today, the services of the Armed Forces are suffering from a severe lack of necessary war-fighting capabilities, which has severe implications for India’s national security considering the actual requirements.India’s aspirations of becoming self-reliant in indigenous defence production and also acquiring advanced weapons system faster would, however, depend on the effectiveness of the decision-making at the apex-level while taking into consideration India’s national security interests. Some observers have questioned the efficacy of the established process of decision-making in defence acquisition or during times of crises, which is managed by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).The lack of military inputs in decision-making is considered to be the most significant lacuna. It is also observed that the national security strategy of India suffers from flaws such as the absence of a National Security Doctrine and the absence of long-term defence planning. Moreover, the need for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a supposedly single point of advice to the CCS on military affairs and defence acquisitions, has been long felt.There are an increasing number of opinions on the need for key structural reforms in India’s higher defence management and the national security decision-making process, which shall in the long run help improve India’s defence R&D, self-reliance in defence production and civil-military relations.Acquisition And Offset StrategyTo expand India’s defence industrial base, India has long relied on its offset policy to engage in transactions with foreign suppliers and promote transfer of technology, thereby leading to indigenous defence production. First introduced in 2005, the offset policy has gone through several revisions in the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) that have been released over the years (the latest one came out in March 2016). The transactions with foreign suppliers are aimed at enhancing the economic, technological, and the industrial capabilities of India.India, as it is well known, has long relied on licensed production with overseas defence contractors. And as now offset is mandatory, India is likely to benefit from a transfer of technology with the rise in the number of offset agreements as a result of India’s increasing defence acquisition budget.The increase in defence spending has become possible not just because of the tensions in the immediate regional security environment but also because of its rapid economic growth over the years that has given it a solid economic base. This should play a major role in increasing India’s defence offset appetite, which would give it the necessary financial resources to promote indigenous defence production.However, India’s defence offset policy suffers from major challenges that require attention. India’s offset policy requires foreign vendors to engage with local defence companies through co-development, co-production, joint ventures, maintenance, and upgrades, but full mergers and acquisitions are not allowed. Therefore, foreign companies are hesitant to invest in a defence industry without having full stakes in the defence production.Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the defence sector is capped at 49 percent, which again is a sore point for many foreign firms, as they believe that investments involve huge financial risks, and therefore, FDI cap in defence should be raised to 74 percent or even 100 percent.Secondly, the expectation that a foreign vendor will engage in ‘complete’ transfer of technology to the Indian pattern of the system’s subsystems, modules, assemblies, and specific parts or components is too much to ask, given the commitments the offset policy of India demands.Thirdly, India’s offset policy is based on an inflexible doctrine of indigenisation, and India’s offset policy should be made compatible with the economic dynamism of the global defence industry.And finally, other issues in the offset policy should be addressed, such as the policy’s obligatory nature, objectives that need broadening, and most importantly, the inherent complexities, which need reduction.Under the current offset policy, India under ‘Buy (Global)’ would purchase from the foreign or Indian seller, and under ‘Buy and Make with Transfer of Technology’ would acquire defence hardware from foreign sellers, which would be followed by co-development and joint-production. The estimated cost of acquisition proposal should be Rs 300 crore or more, ‘compensation’ or offset for the cost of acquisition under the ‘Buy (Global)’ category would be 30 percent, and foreign exchange component under ‘Buy and Make with Transfer of Technology’ would be 30 percent.Foreign firms from major defence hardware exporting countries find such conditions difficult to fulfil as there are literally no incentives, and because of a lack of proper monitoring mechanism and issues related to intellectual property rights.The Ministry of Defence (MOD) released an incomplete version of DPP 2016 on 28 March 2016, which saw the introduction of a new category titled ‘Buy (Indian Designed, Developed, and Manufactured)’ or Buy (IDDM) for the first time since its inception in 2002. That means the Indian government has recognised the need for encouraging scientific talent in India and has placed importance on “indigenous design”, development, and manufacture. However, critics would argue that it is too early to judge or predict the efficacy of the document as it misses many critical issues and does little to address problems that beset decision-making in the MoD.What India NeedsEach of the services of the Indian Armed Forces today needs urgent modernisation to face the complex security challenges that emanate in an increasingly unstable neighbourhood and a complex strategic regional security environment. The Indian Army, which is one of the largest standing forces in the world, possesses weapons and equipment that are bordering on obsolescence and need to be replaced. The next step should be to acquire network-centric capabilities to optimise the Army’s full potential in defensive and offensive operations.The critical capabilities that are needed to be enhanced (as Lieutenant General JP Singh noted in an interview with Centre for Land and Warfare Studies, New Delhi) are “battlefield transparency, battlefield management systems, night-fighting capability, enhanced firepower, including terminally guided munitions, integrated manoeuvre capability to include self-propelled artillery, quick reaction surface-to-air missiles, the latest assault engineer equipment, tactical control systems, integral combat aviation support, and network centricity.”Also, urgent steps should be taken to enhance the operational capabilities of Army aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition branches in order to improve the Army’s overall combat potential so that it can face aggression of any magnitude.India needs to take urgent steps towards extensive naval modernisation so as to secure its security interests in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. India should look to augment its naval power by acquiring capabilities for maritime domain awareness in the area of responsibility, including space-based surveillance, maritime reconnaissance, airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).The Indian Navy should be equipped with modern capabilities in fields of tactical aviation, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air/anti-missile, land-attack, mine counter-measures, and electronic warfare. It is equally important to make sure that Indian Navy is integrated by the networking of ships, submarines, and airborne platforms via satellites. In the end, the government should commit to self-reliance and indigenisation, with the objective of harnessing national strengths in ship-building, engineering, electronics, and information technology (IT).The Indian naval modernisation, though much delayed, has begun to pick up steam as seen from the recent developments where deals worth thousands of crore have been made to expand India’s naval fleet and India’s naval dominance capabilities.The Indian Air Force (IAF) is a full-spectrum force equipped with very capable platforms and trained manpower, but the numbers are inadequate for intense and lengthy operations. India must take urgent steps to maintain an edge over the adversary through technology and force employment.The IAF is at the forefront of technology, but India should push towards self-reliance, as it has to develop its own technology and defence industrial base. India’s track record in R&D, however, has been dismal, and it is continuing to face a number of challenges in terms of meeting the quantitative requirements to defend the Indian skies. As per one of the recent reports, the IAF has only 32 squadrons of fighters, the lowest in a decade, while it needs at least 42 squadrons to protect its western and northern borders from Pakistan and China. Also, as aircraft such as MiG-21s and MiG-27s in the IAF are old and ageing (which date back to the Soviet era), India is likely to lose another 14 squadrons by 2019-2020.Commercial negotiations with France on the deal over Rafale fighter jets are far from over, and India has yet to start the production of its first indigenously built aircraft Tejas (the project is more than 30 years old). India has to focus urgently on air dominance and control of the air by building capacity to indigenously produce future capabilities for the design and development of aircraft, heavy attack helicopters, and other combat and surveillance-related capabilities for further projection of air power.From India’s point of view, the most crucial component that has to be implemented for better integration of the services of the Armed Forces is a robust and an efficient Command, Control, Computers, Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) system. An integrated Indian C4ISR system will be central to augmenting India’s overall defence capability.With better integration of the services of the Armed Forces, it is also essential that there is integration between the Armed Forces, defence and intelligence agencies, and other government and private organisations as well. This would provide a joint force that would protect the country from traditional as well as asymmetric threats while providing flexibility, analysis, interpretation, and efficiency. This would also give advantages such as information assurance, control and disruption of information, data processing and management, quicker decision-making, and larger system integration.A strong political will and an enabling framework for the involvement of players from different sectors (such as private sector or academia) for indigenous production of such capabilities would be essential, which is turning out to be a key national security imperative.ConclusionThreats from China and Pakistan leave India with no other option but to augment its defence capabilities to secure its national security interests. India’s pace of defence modernisation, however, has been slow because of a number of inherent holes in the system, such as the lack of a National Security Strategy doctrine, or a long-term strategic defence plan, which are impediments in terms of evolving a clear-cut strategy to meet the defence requirements of the Armed Forces by making a thorough analysis of the security challenges in the immediate regional security environment.Moreover, India’s inability to produce advanced, sophisticated weapons systems and advanced defence technologies indigenously has severely affected its aspirations of becoming self-reliant in defence production, thereby remaining heavily dependent on foreign sellers for defence purchases, which in a way or other, do expose India’s vulnerabilities. Adversaries may seek advantage in case they happen to know India’s vulnerabilities, which in turn would have severe implications for India’s national security. Therefore, the policy priority for the Indian civil and defence establishment should be to take necessary decisions to ensure that India’s defence requirements are met as soon as possible through indigenous production.India’s indigenous defence production capabilities have, however, not grown because of a number of challenges. There is a lack of the greater political will that has severely affected decision-making in terms of acquiring weapons on time as per the needs of the Armed Forces. The Indian defence industry suffers because of under-utilisation of human resources that has negatively affected India’s defence R&D base. Because of the unfriendly defence industrial procurement system, it has resulted in few co-development and co-production ventures with foreign firms.The lack of a conducive financial framework for the local industry to do business in the defence sector, especially for the private sector, has also negatively impacted private participation in the defence sector. Therefore, the urgent focus for the Indian government should be to encourage private individuals and entities in India that could contribute in indigenous defence production. This would mean that India would achieve its goal of self-reliance only if it allows more private players in India to participate in the defence sector, and the true potential of the Indian minds are utilised.Also, initiating or implementing further defence reforms, such as streamlining procurement and offset policy and introducing newer positions and staffs for better policy coordination, would be essential if India wants to reduce the qualitative and quantitative gaps between its defence industrial base with that of the other major powers.