Hiring Entry-Level Drivers: Best Practices to Ensure Success
December 21, 2022
Hiring new drivers from CDL schools…it can be a good thing or a bad thing. Some schools do a great job setting drivers up for a successful career in the trucking industry, while others do not. Luckily, creating a steady pipeline of qualified candidates to hire from a CDL school doesn't need to be as challenging as it may seem. We recently spoke with Rolf VanderZwaag, president of Techni-Com and publisher of multiple industry-standard training and reference books to get his thoughts on what fleets can do better recruit from CDL schools.
In this blog, we'll take a look at:
- The state of entry-level driver training regulations in the U.S. and Canada
- The problem with driver entry-level regulations and CDL schools
- What fleets should look for when recruiting new entrants
- Recruiting drivers from large vs. small CDL schools
- Building relationships with local CDL schools
- How to work with your insurance provider to identify top CDL schools
- How to evaluate the effectiveness of a CDL program and its instructors
The state of entry-level driver training regulations in the U.S. and Canada
The requirements for a new driver looking to earn a CDL vary considerably based on the jurisdiction they earn their license in. In the U.S., the FMCSA sets the baseline requirements entry-level drivers need to pass through its Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulation. The ELDT regulation outlines specific topics CDL schools must teach entry-level drivers for them to receive their CDL. Each state or local municipality may have its own set of regulations entry-level drivers must meet on top of what's required through ELDT.
In Canada, CDL schools in most provinces must follow the basic requirements set by MELT or Mandatory Entry-Level Training. The MELT program provides a list of classroom and on-road training requirements CDL schools must include in their program. The biggest difference between MELT and the U.S.'s regulation base requirements are time requirements. Under MELT, the program sets a minimum number of hours for each training topic drivers must complete to receive their CDL. The ELDT program doesn't have a minimum hours requirement for training.
The problem with driver entry-level regulations and CDL schools
According to VanderZwaag, the problem with current regulations is that because requirements are basic to cover all truck driving positions, there are often missing pieces of information drivers need to know depending on the driving positions they're looking for once they receive their CDL. For instance, a CDL school that teaches the bare minimum topics as required by regulations isn't likely to set a driver looking for a specific driving job - like driving a cement mixer truck - up for success. There is also very little oversight from governing bodies as to how schools conduct their programs. Because of this, the quality of driving schools that are out there varies considerably. CDL schools are a bridge between the driver and their career. Some schools do a much better job at preparing drivers for success in the industry while others do not and would rather collect tuition. It's important to know which driving schools are turning out good, qualified drivers when recruiting from schools and which ones are not.
What fleets should look for when recruiting new entrants
Since the quality of education and skills taught can vary so greatly depending on where entry-level drivers went to school, it's important as a company to do some research on the schools in the area you're looking to recruit from. VanderZwaag recommends checking to see…
- How qualified are the candidates the school is accepting? Can you determine if there is a screening process to filter poor applicants?
- What the curriculum is that they're teaching drivers.
- Do they have programs specific to teaching drivers skills for various trucking segments? For example, if you're a dump truck fleet, do they have programs designed to help drivers for this application?
- What is their placement like? Are most drivers graduating from their program getting jobs?
- How prepared are drivers when they receive their CDL? The best gauge to evaluate a CDL school is to have a recent graduate perform a road test with your company to see how well they perform.
Recruiting drivers from large vs. small CDL schools
Larger CDL schools typically have more bandwidth to offer more specialized programs that cater to various segments of the trucking industry compared to smaller schools. VanderZwaag said they also tend to have the financial stability to screen for qualified applicants to admit into their programs, especially if they have a good reputation, since they can afford to turn away poor candidates. Larger schools are more likely to better evaluate drivers' skill sets as they go through their program and suggest certain vocations for them once they graduate.
Smaller CDL schools, or schools that are new and not yet established, are often limited in what they're able to offer through their programs. According to VanderZwaag, these schools are often more affordable for drivers, but that can turn into a “you get what you pay for” situation. Since the school may have limited resources, drivers are taught the basic skills needed to pass a CDL test, but are not necessarily set up for success going into their career as a driver.
With this in mind, there are still smaller schools that produce highly qualified candidates after they graduate. Many of these schools specialize in a specific vocation rather than trying to cover all industry segments.
Some large carriers opt to bring new entrant training in-house to streamline the process of educating new drivers to start their careers with the company. With this approach, the trucking company has full autonomy over what is taught to new entrants so that they develop the skills necessary to succeed with the company. It also gives the new drivers in training more time to be exposed to the company culture and helps make the transition to employees easier. The CDL program is often paid for by the trucking company as an incentive for drivers to hire on with their fleet.
Building relationships with local CDL schools
Finding well-qualified drivers that recently received their CDL doesn't need to be like finding a needle in a haystack. As a company, there are several things you can do to create a steady pipeline of well-trained drivers looking for their first driving job. Carriers and CDL schools mutually benefit by working together. In fact, Rolf said it's in a CDL schools' best interest to be linked to as many trucking companies as possible and vice-versa. Here's why…
- When you're connected with local CDL schools, you can work with them to develop a curriculum that covers the set of skills of drivers you're looking to hire. In turn, if the school produces drivers that meet the fleets' hiring requirements, they will likely continue to recruit from the school
- Building connections with schools that produce qualified new entrants can help better address open positions rather than having to rely on the recruitment of experienced drivers
For CDL schools:
- Having high placement scores can help attract those seeking a CDL to apply to the school
- Good reviews from trucking companies hiring graduating drivers can help promote the school
- Having more applicants helps schools be more selective in accepting those that are more likely to succeed in their program as a professional driver
- Feedback from trucking companies on their curriculum can help the school improve its educational programs so drivers are better prepared for the workforce. As a result, trucking companies will be more inclined to recruit drivers from the school
When a carrier partners with a school and reviews the school's curriculum and training schedule, it's important to not get caught up on the total number of hours of the program. Some might assume the more hours it takes a driver to complete the program, the better. But, that's not necessarily true. VanderZwaag said to focus on the quality of the course work and training. Oftentimes, schools will include the time drivers spend riding in the cab of the truck, but not driving, the time it takes to complete online training courses and other tasks that take time. A student that sits in the back of the cab for several hours while another student drives doesn't make a significant impact on their own education.
How to work with your insurance provider to identify top CDL schools
To better identify the CDL schools you should be connecting with, VanderZwaag said you should connect with your insurance provider to see what they know about the schools in your area. CDL schools need insurance too, and your insurance agent is likely aware of which schools are and are not doing a good job with their programs. Some insurance companies even have a “list” of the top CDL schools in your area, so it's worth checking with them to see who is on that list.
How to evaluate the effectiveness of a CDL program and its instructors
The CDL schools with the best training programs are those willing to evolve, stay current with an ever-changing industry, and accepts feedback from industry partners on opportunities for improvement. These schools should offer a variety of programs for different vocations or specialize in working with drivers entering a specific segment of the industry.
The best instructors are those with several years of real-world driving experience and not just the bare minimum qualifications of three years, according to VanderZwaag. These instructors should be open-minded to adjusting their delivery methods to better educate drivers and stay up to date with changing regulations and industry trends. They should be in their profession for the right season…to help the next generations of drivers be prepared for their careers in trucking and be available to work individually with drivers.
At the end of the day, the only way to evaluate how prepared drivers graduating from these schools is by how well they do on a road test. For a more in-depth overview on hiring new entrants, check out our full CarriersEdge webinar discussion.