Driver Training Programs Overwhelmed by Interest
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Truck driver training programs are in need of more resources and instructors to handle an influx of people interested in joining the industry.
“We raised pay enough over the past two years that it’s caught people’s attention and they are valuing the jobs that we are providing more now than they were a few years ago,” said Rob Hatchett, president of fleet intel at Conversion Interactive Agency. “But we’ve got to have more trainers so they can train more new entrances.”
Hatchett routinely speaks with people who run these driver training programs. He noted that this has been consistent across both independent driver training schools and carriers that have training programs.
“There’s a lot more people saying my trucks are full right now than there were six months ago,” Hatchett said. “That’s because we’ve got more people choosing the industry.”
Hatchett noted the influx has already started trickling down to those carriers who don’t have a training program but require a year of experience. He has also seen former truck drivers who still have their commercial licenses come back to the industry.
“The problem is they don’t have any recent experience,” Hatchett said. “So, they’ve got to go to a carrier that has a training program as well.”
The New England Tractor Trailer Training School is one such vocational institution that has seen a lot of interest. President Mark Greenberg attributes this to more public awareness over the last two years of the driver shortage and pay raises. He noted the public is usually unaware of these industry trends.
“Our front-end marketing activities are being rewarded, especially during a low unemployment period,” Greenberg said. “Low unemployment usually means a slowdown. We have not seen a slowdown in this low unemployment period. I can only attribute that to the positive public relations.”
Greenberg noted that despite this increased interest there are some hurdles holding back capacity. He pointed to some states being unable to provide timely testing for licenses, inconsistency in how tests are conducted and the number of available tests.
“Those three things are causing bottlenecks where we literally have hundreds of drivers waiting for tests,” Greenberg said. “I’m actively involved. I’ve helped create legislation in one state to try and increase it. I have meetings this week with state officials to try to bring this issue to the table.”
Roadmaster Drivers School President Brad Ball also believes the incentives that the trucking industry has put in place to attract people has translated into a more robust pipeline for training. But another factor is that people became disillusioned with their careers during the pandemic, and turned to driver training.
A student trains behind the wheel with his instructor. (Roadmaster Drivers School)
“Where else can you go from unemployed to trained, licensed and getting started in a new career in about a month,” Ball said. “Most schools, and we talk to a lot of schools outside of our network, have been very busy since COVID ended.”
Ball noted once the pandemic ended many of the restrictions on schools that reduced how many people could be trained also stopped. He also pointed to the end of government pandemic support. Ball noted that now schools even have waiting lists with the biggest hurdle being a lack of instructors.
“During the first year of COVID, of course, many of the schools were actually closed down and even the schools that weren’t closed down had to do social distancing,” Ball said. “So they could only fit about half at most in their classrooms that they previously would’ve been able to fit. So supply was pinched quite a bit in that first year.”
Ball has seen demand for training slow down slightly. He noted over the last month or two not as many carriers are scrambling to fill seats. But he believes this is likely a temporary lull with peak season right around the corner.
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“Our program is three weeks and we are currently booked out,” Megan Ellsworth, industry and technology director at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa, said. “We are seeing more and more individuals that are coming from the corporate world, which we haven’t really seen much before. So we’ve seen a lot of people come through that are wanting a career change.”
Ellsworth added that the training program is booked out through mid-November. She noted that this heightened interest in driver training really started around last January. Now the biggest obstacle is there not being enough resources to meet demand.
“If we had more funds to increase our space, our instructors, our equipment, all of that, we could help even more,” Ellsworth said. “We just don’t have enough resources to be able to do that. Every community college in Iowa, we all have a wait list.”