Few things are as exciting as the open road, with miles of highway and possibility in front of you. For some people, the only time to experience the freedom of the highway is via the occasional road trip or vacation. But driving can also be a lucrative career. In fact, truck drivers are in high demand, and the trend is expected to continue.
According to American Trucking Associations, in 2014, the industry was short by about 38,000 drivers, a staggering number considering that nearly 70 percent of all freight in the U.S. is transported by truck. The ATA expects the number to continue to climb.
If you love the freedom of the open road and want to work in a high-demand industry, choosing a career as a truck driver is a no-brainer. And once you’ve decided that truck driving is the job for you, it’s time to get certified. Certification requires proper training, and that means truck driving school.
Benefits of Truck Driving Schools
Some drivers are able to get by without attending school, but this can be problematic for several reasons:
• Many companies require accreditation before they hire you.
• There’s no substitute for real-world experience.
While online manuals and CDL test preparation materials are widely available, no book is a substitute for actual experience behind the wheel. Even if you once drove a large box truck during a move, once you’re in the driver’s seat, you’ll quickly realize that a big rig is a different beast altogether. It is generally recommended that you get at least 44 hours of actual driving time prior to taking your CDL licensing exam.
Choosing the Right Truck Driving School
At first, becoming a driving student may seem as simple as finding the closest school in your area and enrolling, but not all truck driving schools are created equal. Courses, training and fees vary widely, so how do you find the right school for your future success as a truck driver?
There are two major types of truck driving schools: Private vocational schools and company-sponsored institutions. Both have merits as well as downsides, and the choice depends on several factors, including:
• Your budgetary needs
• Your plans/ideas for your career once training is complete
• Your location
Many community colleges throughout the U.S. offer a variety of vocational programs, including truck driving.
• Most private schools are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, which means that you could qualify for grants and loans.
• No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re likely to find a private truck driving school nearby.
• After graduation, you have the flexibility to apply to any company you choose.
• Some driving companies do not recognize degrees from certain private truck driving schools, so do your research prior to applying.
• Enrolling in a private school can be costly, but some companies offer tuition reimbursement programs to employees.
Company-sponsored truck driving schools are owned and operated by a trucking company.
• Company-sponsored schools often require no money up front.
• You are guaranteed employment once your training is complete.
• You are stuck working for the company that trained you, even if you don’t feel that it’s a good fit.
• Because your training is handled by a company rather than a learning institution, you may not receive the same quality of education.
As previously mentioned, company-sponsored truck driving schools may require little to no money up-front, but you may find that your wages are garnished for a period of time so that the company can recoup training costs. Private training will set you back an average of between $3000 to $6000 in tuition, and sometimes even more. However, you may be able to offset tuition costs with grants from the U.S. Department of Education or tuition reimbursement programs once you secure employment with a trucking company.
You also want to consider costs beyond course fees. CDL training will take up a large chunk of your time, and you may have to reduce hours, thus your take-home pay, at your current job in order to fit driving school into your schedule. Hidden fees may also include the cost of your permit and any required drug tests as well as insurance fees.
What to Look For and What to Steer Clear Of
• Look for a school that is accredited by a reputable association within the trucking industry, such as American Trucking Associations.
• Look for a school or training program with a high graduation percentage.
• Look for a school that provides at least 44 hours of BTW time.
• Steer clear of a school that puts a high emphasis on “observation time.” This could mean that your actual driving time is limited.
• Steer clear of schools with a tuition cost that seems to good to be true.
Ultimately, choosing from among the myriad truck driving schools out there is a personal decision, and you’ll have to work hard either way. No matter your decision, once your hard work pays off and you have that CDL in your hand, you can rest easy knowing that you’ll likely find stable employment in an exciting, in-demand industry.