New Texas CDL Training, Exam Site Seeks Students, Testers
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Recently opening after receiving a $4.3 million federal grant, a 20-acre truck driving center that is able to process 20,000 commercial driver license exams annually at a Texas community college is looking for out-of-state students and testing companies.
“Lamar State College Port Arthur is actively seeking to enter into training contracts with companies around the nation to provide training and examination services,” Dr. Ben Stafford, the school’s vice president of workforce training and continuing education, told Transport Topics in an email. “We are already in negotiation with companies who are interested in sending out-of-state students to live in Texas for several months and return to their home state with the commercial license.”
The community college in Port Arthur, 90 miles east of Houston, was awarded a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration workforce development grant in February 2021 to create a CDL testing site. A year earlier, the state approved the college to become a truck driving examination center for students and the region.
“The center provides the largest commercial driver training and examination facility in our region, and it does encompass both commercial driver training and commercial driver examination,” Stafford said. “The college is an entry-level driver training program approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and is also a third-party examination center through an interagency agreement with the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide both the knowledge and the skills exams.”
Lamar State College Port Arthur’s CDL program is significant now but had humble beginnings. It started offering CDL training in 2014 at the request of local municipalities and businesses, which needed drivers. In its first two years, it trained students on borrowed vehicles: two dump trucks (one provided by a city and another by a county) and a bus from a local school district. The college created agreements for its insurance to cover the vehicles while in use for training.
The CDL training site at the college opened in July and is the largest in the state. (U.S. Economic Development Administration)
Now the college has 12 vehicles, including tractor-trailers, school and coach buses, and dump trucks so that students receive an unrestricted license. The only simulation in the program, 300 hours for a Class A license, is for shifting simulators. The length of training there falls in the 95th percentile in Texas, while most CDL programs there average 200 to 240 training hours.
“While a shorter program may be adequate, the days are gone when a tractor was a simple piece of equipment. Now students are learning to drive immensely powerful hybrid vehicles, which are as much digital operating system as they are locomotive equipment, and it is crucial for the safety of all concerned that they are trained well,” Stafford said.
The new facility, which opened in July, is now the state’s largest CDL examination center, with a four-lane examination space located in nearby Nederland.
The college partners with local trucking companies, so students typically have a job offer before graduation. “In one recent example, the college conducted several training classes where students were trained specifically to go to work for one company, and that company made the promise to hire all students who met their onboarding requirements,” Stafford said, adding that most students are offered warehouse jobs while waiting to become drivers.
With a great demand for drivers, Texas for several years has faced a waiting list of three to five months for CDL driving exams.
“By becoming our own examination center, we’ve eliminated this backlog for our students, and our pass rates have skyrocketed in response. This creates an effective flow from classroom to employment and is a strong benefit to the Texas trucking industry, which is anxious for employees,” Stafford said.
Texas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employs more heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (210,940 as of May 2022) than any other state.
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“There is very strong local driving mostly consisting of transportation of goods from warehouses to manufacturers or suppliers (i.e., trucks stocking retail stores, trucks bringing equipment to construction sites, timber trucks bringing raw lumber to the mills, etc.),” Stafford said. “There are strong regional runs to be had. Since we have access to multiple interstate highways, our area has many regional runs where drivers are making two-a-day runs from local warehouses into Austin or Dallas, or four-a-day runs between Jefferson County and Houston. We are well located for companies like Dollar General, whose Texas warehouses service their stores in Louisiana and Arkansas so that Texas-based operators make regional runs into those states weekly.”
Although CDL students are ineligible for traditional college tuition assistance because of the CDL training program’s short duration, college administrators are active in writing grants for tuition assistance and seeking other solutions.
“Because Texas is a very business-friendly state, there are grants available to help Texas transportation companies train their workforce,” Stafford said.
For example, the college is partnering with U.S. Logistics Solutions to train 70 warehouse workers to become Class B drivers starting in January so that new drivers can be ready for the 2024 Christmas rush. The state will provide a $200,000 grant.
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