I have been researching different options for people who want to find free, or nearly free, CDL training to become truck drivers. The list is growing continuously and I’m getting the impression that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this arena. And when you look at the dynamics of the trucking industry, I expect the opportunities for free truck driving school will continue to grow for many years. Here’s my thinking on it.
It only takes a few weeks to learn enough about backing up, steering, and shifting a tractor trailer to be able to get your class A CDL license and head out on the road with an experienced trainer by your side. With the help of this trainer for several weeks (preferably about 6), you’ll have a much better understanding of how to drive, handle your logbook, and schedule your days so that you can function by yourself out there in your own truck. Now understand something – it takes years and years to really become a good driver. Anyone can shift and steer under quiet conditions, but I’ve had my fully loaded rig go almost completely sideways and begin to jacknife on a patch of ice you couldn’t tell was there at about 50 mph. With a couple of gentle, subtle tactics I was able to regain control in less than 3 seconds and continue down the road like nothing ever happened. Is someone two months out of school going to be able to do that? Only if they are the luckiest person on earth! And we all need a little (or a lot) of luck sometimes! But within about 3 weeks of starting truck driving school you are working for a company, out on the road making money. And within 2 months or so, you are alone in your own rig, cruisin down the highway!
Now if you weren’t already aware, there is a huuuuge turnover in the trucking industry. In fact, it’s over 100% on the average. Which means a company with 1000 drivers will have to hire over 1000 drivers per year to keep most of their trucks rolling. That’s how many people quit each year. It’s mind-boggling. And the lifestyle of a truck driver is certainly no easy life to be sure! So for these, and various other reasons, there is always a huge demand for drivers. Trucking companies spend thousands of dollars for each driver that they hire. Back in 2004, an orientation manager at a large company told me that they spend an average of $3200 for each driver they hire. That includes recruiting costs, paperwork, transportation, orientation, initializing worker’s comp, and various other costs. So having to hire a large number of people every year is an incredible expense, and it gets worse every year!
Now if you put some of these factors together to get an overall picture of the trucking industry, you’ll see that the combination makes the industry a perfect candidate for free schooling. How do I come to that conclusion? Because a new driver can start making plenty of money to pay back a loan pretty much as soon as he is through with the training period and out on his own. The schooling only takes a few weeks, and then the training takes a few more. So if trucking companies are desperate for drivers, and they are going to spend a ton of money bringing in experienced drivers and paying them more per mile with no way to really keep them from leaving, then why not find a way to spend that money on drivers that you will pay much less per mile and be able to give them a great reason to stay with the company for a while? Well that’s exactly what companies are doing more and more these days.
By offering to cover most, if not all of the upfront costs of going to school, and requiring a new graduate to pay back little or no money for the schooling itself, they can in turn keep the driver working at the company for an extended period of time. They simply require that the driver remain with the company for a specified amount of time. If they do, the cost of schooling will either be free, or almost free, because the majority of it will be paid for by the company. In return, the company gets a new driver that earns much less per mile than an experienced driver and good reason to believe that the driver will remain with the company for longer than an experienced driver would. After all, for the new driver to quit it would cost him/her thousands of dollars. To stay on for a year or so would give them good experience, a good paying job, and basically a free ticket into the trucking industry. So everybody wins.
I expect the amount of opportunities for free CDL training to continue to increase in the coming years and I am going to focus more and more of my time and effort on finding these opportunities and promoting the idea to trucking companies and truck driving schools alike. The number of partnerships between the companies and the schools should be increasing, and so should the creativity that goes into structuring these plans so that they are effective for everyone. There are a number of interesting dynamics involved, including the internal debate at the larger trucking companies over whether they should be running their own private schools, or whether they should be getting into partnerships with existing independent schools? Should trucking companies be sponsoring drivers by covering the cost of schooling up front, or offering to pay back student loans as long as the driver remains with the company?
Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months for more coverage on this topic.
Thanks for reading and until next time, take care!