Looking to enroll in a Truck Driving School? What to look for and what to watch out for.
sponsored by: The Sage Corporation
The Industry Demand
America has an enormous amount of freight to move around the country. As the saying goes, “if you got it, a truck brought it.” This demand has resulted in a critical shortage of qualified truck drivers. It has been estimated that 400,000 driving positions will need to be filled each year! To attract new drivers companies are offering starting annual pay that can be more than $35,000 plus excellent benefits like health insurance, paid vacation, 401(k) plans and comfortable, high-powered trucks.
Qualified Truck Drivers Needed
You can probably guess that the drivers that work for top companies and earn the most money are the best qualified. A primary concern of trucking companies regarding a driver’s qualifications is the extent and quality of the training a truck driver has received. The fact is, the best-trained drivers are in the highest demand. Most companies require new drivers to attend an approved school so they know the level of training the driver received. Drivers with solid fundamental skills and experience are well paid for their abilities and knowledge.
As a result, THE QUALITY OF YOUR TRAINING IS CRITICAL. But there are a lot of schools across the country. Choosing a reputable program that is right for you requires some investigation and comparison-shopping. This article should help you evaluate truck driving schools so you make the right decision for your career.
Selecting a Truck Driving School
Your future could depend upon the truck driving school you attend. There can be a big difference among schools in the objectives and quality of the training offered. Here are the basic characteristics you should look for:
Facilities: Classrooms should be adequate for instruction, clean, have audio-visual capabilities, training aids and a library. A private practice driving range should be near the school.
Equipment: The school should provide well-maintained recent model tractors and trailers such as those used by employers. Students should receive some driving time with weighted (not empty) trailers.
Certification: Look for programs that follow a curriculum that meets or exceeds the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) standard. PTDI requires a minimum of 44 hours of actual behind the wheel driving time (driving time does not include “observation”). PTDI is an independent industry organization established to advance tractor trailer driver training, proficiency, safety and professionalism by establishing minimum standards and certifying schools that meet them. These schools have met the most demanding industry standards. Even if a school has not been certified, make sure that you will actually drive for 44 hours. A good school will guarantee the number of driving hours in their curriculum.
Accreditation: Truck driving schools may voluntarily seek accreditation by agencies listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency. Accredited schools have demonstrated to the agency that they meet high educational standards and business practices.
Driving Time: This is the most important part of your training! After all, you are learning to drive a truck. The PTDI industry standard program must have 44 hours of actual driving time by each student. Many schools mislead students by including “observation time” as part of the time spent driving. Observation is NOT driving and provides minimal training value. Demand the full amount of actual driving time. Make the school show you in writing how much driving is included in the course.
Student-to-Truck Ratio: Many schools cut costs and quality by training 3 to 5 students in a truck at once. The best schools provide private, one-on-one instruction (one student per truck). This way, the focus is on you. It may be unsafe to be distracted by other students when you are just learning to drive a truck.
Instructors: Teaching staff should have a minimum of three years driving experience. Instructors should have a background in education or have participated in a formal “train the trainer” program. Accredited and certified school instructors have met these standards. Ask current students what they think of the instructional staff.
Placement Assistance: The school should have personnel dedicated to assisting you in finding a good job in the trucking industry. This should include private advising with you regarding your future and companies that meet your preferences. No school should ever guarantee you a job, but they can verify the school’s placement record. Talk to recent graduates, current students and employers about the quality of the school’s training.
Financing: Reputable truck driving schools offer a variety of alternatives to assist in funding tuition for you, finding loans that have reasonable terms and seeking companies that have employer-paid tuition reimbursement programs.
Program Length: Look for a program that is the right length for you. Some programs may be too short (1-3 weeks), providing minimal driving experience. A good truck driving school should last at least 4 weeks.
Cost: What does CDL driving cost? Tuition at trucking schools varies significantly. Focus on the value for your money: actual driving hours are the key. Make sure you understand expenses such as the costs of a driving permit, license, motor vehicle record report, DOT physical and drug screen, insurance, loan fees, application and registration fees, books, lodging, etc. Also carefully read and understand the school’s refund policy and the terms of any enrollment contract or loan papers you sign. Truck driver training can be expensive because schools have to pay for instructors, insurance, trucks, fuel, rent and advertising, to name a few. But as a general rule, training should not cost more than about $4,000.
TRUCK DRIVING SCHOOL TIPS
1. Beware of the “CDL Mill”. Many tractor trailer driving schools only want to produce as many licensed drivers as possible in the shortest time and with the least cost to them. Training is secondary. They’re usually 1-3 week programs that include minimal driving time and several students crowded in one truck. Avoid these at all costs! Driving a tractor-trailer requires training from professionals. Just because you get a CDL does not mean you are well trained.
2. There is no such thing as “FREE” training. Some trucking companies advertise “free” truck driver training. It’s not free. Training is often hasty and informal; it’s usually just advice from a co-driver, not a formal training program. Also, read the fine print. They normally require you to work for one or two years. The tuition will be taken out of your pay. If you leave the company they can demand repayment, report you to credit bureaus and seek collection. They can even come after you even if you have to quit for medical reasons or financial reasons or you are fired! Plus, no other companies will accept training from another carrier, so you’ll have to go to school again if you want to get another job. You can end up paying for the training twice.
3. Lifetime training guarantees. This is a marketing gimmick. If you were trained properly the first time, why would you need a guarantee of training for the rest of your life? Schools that provide minimal driving time often make these guarantees; students frequently have to receive future training when they can’t get hired without better driving skills.
4. What is an hour of training? At some schools, a training hour includes only 50 minutes of actual training (plus a ten minute break). This means that if they tell you your course is 130 hours long, you lose 10 minutes of training off each hour. Get your money’s worth from schools that train based on a 60 minute hour.
5. Call Local Employers for assistance in contacting a quality school. They can normally provide information for local training providers with a good reputation.
6. Visit the school. To assess whether a school is right for you, visit the facility, inspect the equipment, talk to the students and instructors, review placement information and get employer references.
Good luck and be a safe, smart driver!
The SAGE Corporation