Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta spoke at the American Trucking Association’s convention in October. In his speech, he noted 247,000 job openings in transportation and warehousing, the majority of them truck driving jobs with trucking companies, and said trucking should consider President Trump’s executive order earlier this year to create apprenticeship programs. Acosta added that “previous administrations were not so friendly to apprenticeship programs.”
He may just be correct. Back in November 2011 and January 2012, I wrote articles outlining an incentive and advancement apprenticeship program to help reduce driver turnover, provide comprehensive training for entry-level drivers, and create a self-driven career advancement program for truckers. Maybe now the time is right to make the paradigm shift. Under the current hiring methods, a trucker’s job description is two-dimensional: trainee, trucker, and very little room for advancement or increase in compensation. This is where the shift needs to occur.
If carriers embrace a ‘student, trainee, apprentice, journeyman, master trucker, and master trucker trainer’ ladder structure, training new entrants and granting continuing education units (CEUs) that advance a trucker’s career would help shrink the turnover rate.
Here’s the outline covering the five levels I suggested in the articles:
Student trucker: Increase the training period to 480 hours spread over three months. It would require 240 hours behind the wheel, including highway and city driving, backing and tight quarters handling, and understanding the mechanics of a truck. The other 240 hours would be spent in the classroom learning trucking regulations, CSA requirements, and associated paperwork. In order to advance from any of the following levels, the trucker would have to pass a skills and knowledge test administered by a qualified third party (not the carrier).
Trainee: Once the new entry-level trucker graduates from trucking school and receives a CDL, he/she would be placed with a master trucker trainer for a minimum of six months at his/her carrier.
Apprentice: After the trainee becomes an apprentice, he/she would be teamed with a journeyman or master trucker for a minimum of one year. The apprentice would gain additional experience, sharing driving with the lead team driver.
Journeyman: To become a journeyman, meaning a solo driver or lease operator, the apprentice must have completed 10 hours of CEUs and passed a skills and knowledge test. Also, he/she would be required to have a minimum of 12 months and 100,000 logged miles of accident-free experience with no major traffic or out-of-service violations.
Master trucker: This rating requires 30 more hours of CEUs that cover driving, freight handling, and trucking business skills and knowledge. He/she must have completed a minimum of five years and 500,000 logged miles, pass a master trucker’s skills and knowledge test, and have an accident-free driving record.
Master trucker trainer: In addition to the required 30 CEUs to become a master trucker, he/she must have completed a Truck Driver Trainer Certification course worth 30 CEUs via a written test and skills exam. The trucker must be accident- and ticket-free for a minimum of five years to receive this certification.
Consider how much it currently costs the industry and its carriers to maintain a safe fleet of truckers. With the increase in turnover and the lack of available people desiring to become truckers or remain in the industry as career truckers, the cost of finding qualified and well-trained individuals is becoming higher each year. Also, when the current long-time career truckers (read that ‘baby boomers’) begin retiring, the number of truckers will be reduced even further.
Under the current pattern of training, you have drivers with six months of experience teaching trainees winter driving skills when the trainer has never driven a truck in the winter. There is now a disconnect between training and required skills that creates a greater safety hazard.
Traverse an interstate after a major snowstorm and you’ll see trucks off in the median or in the ditch; that tells you current training is incomplete. The cost of damage to trucks and freight and loss of product getting to market is staggering, not to mention the cost of workers’ comp payouts and increased premiums due to injuries.
One of the biggest problems for smaller trucking companies is that unless carriers are self-insured, they’re unable to hire trucking school graduates. Insurance requirements mandate they must wait for that driver to have at least two years of experience. This program would allow carriers to ‘grow their own’ properly trained truckers through the student, trainee and apprentice program.
In the long run, this would cost far less than current training efforts by reducing turnover costs and insurance costs. It also creates a career path truckers can follow for advancement. Once they achieve journeyman, they can then move on to master and master trainer if they so choose. This type of advancement is sorely lacking in the industry.
A career path would also reduce turnover for a carrier, shrink costs (current estimates figure it costs $15,000 to $25,000 to hire a trucker), and lower the abysmal turnover rate hitting near 80%. A carrier with 10 drivers could potentially save from $90,000 to $150,000 per year if it reduced its turnover to just 20%.
Where’s the money coming from to fund this type of program? From the savings accrued by reducing other costs as a result of higher quality training and retention. For a 10-driver carrier, the savings would exceed the cost to fund this type of program by several thousand dollars.
With increased scrutiny by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the loss of boomer generation truckers through retirement, and fewer individuals wanting to endure a trucker’s lifestyle, the industry needs to develop a new business model for how it hires and works with truckers. The incentive and advancement program outlined addresses many of those challenges with a proactive approach.