I have been in the truck driver training industry for several years now and it still dumbfounds me as to how individuals choose their truck driving school. Often times they make the least important factors a priority, while failing to evaluate the most important factors properly. You want the best quality education you can get for the money, and most importantly you want to be able to land a job after graduation. Here are some important factors to consider when comparing truck driving schools.
A lot of people choose their CDL training based on the price. I won’t disagree, sometimes price is the best way to make a decision, especially if the comparisons are generic. But pricing should be a consideration, not the ultimate decision-maker, when it comes to choosing a truck driving school. Not all truck driving schools are equal and if you base your enrollment on pricing alone you are making a very “snap” decision that could effect the rest of your career.
Truck driving schools in close proximity are usually comparable in price, under a $500 difference between them. If one school is vastly different in pricing, about a $1000 difference, you should find out why. Currently our truck driving school happens to be about $1,000 less than the nearby competitors; the large price difference is due to the fact that we just opened our doors (April of 2011) and we need to prove ourselves under our new name. The large discounted pricing attracts people to enroll regardless of our offerings - but it shouldn’t. If you call a truck driving school to see if you can afford the training and the price is more than you had expected, then ask about financing, grants, and how others pay for the class. Know the differences between the schools so you can make a decision based on value, not simply on price.
The second basis people use is location. Ironically, some people plan on driving all around the country to make a living, but won’t consider a truck driving school that is an additional 20 minutes or so down the road. Just because a school’s location is closer to you doesn’t mean that it is the equivalent of the one farther from you. It is ludicrous to drive an extra fifteen minutes to go to Walmart in the next town when there is a Walmart within walking distance, but truck driving schools are not Walmarts. If you are comparing Walmart to Walmart, by all means shop at the one closest to you. If you are comparing truck driving schools, make the decision based on your needs and the merit of the entity, not just the location.
Also, if you decide to attend a truck driving school outside of the state you reside in please check to make sure your new CDL is transferable. Individuals living in Illinois must be tested in Illinois to receive an Illinois CDL. There is no other way around it.
So those are the two most common reasons for enrolling in one truck driving school over another. But there are far more important considerations that you should be taking into account.
Driving time, quality of training, job placement, and the quality of the instructors should all be major factors influencing your decision. Your thorough research into these areas will show you which schools are the best.
Let’s take drive time for starters. Drive time is the time behind the wheel actually driving, it does not include pre-trips, observation or simulator time. It is behind-the-wheel, in-charge of the truck, pushing in the clutch and turning the steering wheel - that’s drive time. Drive time is one of the most important factors when considering a school. Schools vary on drive time, but 32 hours should be the minimum. Again, the more drive time, the better. I can guarantee that a student that receives more (instructed) drive time will be a better graduate and a better driver.
Interestingly enough, you may have been informed that one-on-one training is the best because if you’re observing instead of driving you are being cheated out of driving time. This advice is actually incorrect. The observation time is remedial time and does not count against your driving time. If you weren’t in the truck observing another student you would be sitting at a computer or studying the pre-trip; you would not be driving. Students attending schools with remedial observation time actually spend more time in and around the trucks than students with one-on-one training.
Also, anyone who is learning a new skill knows that at times the repetition of practice can work against you. Sometimes you just have to step away, take a break and then come back refreshed and ready for action. When your time is scheduled for one-on-one training you can’t jump in the back, refresh your mind, and let someone else drive for a little while. You must continue driving regardless of how worn out, frustrated or exhausted you feel. So when you're asking about driving time, don't worry about whether or not it's one-on-one training, just worry about how much time you'll actually spend in control of the truck, and remember that you'll learn a lot by observing others while you're taking your break.
Quality training is another concern when looking for a truck driving school. The school you choose should have no more than four students to an instructor and all students should be instructed while they're behind the wheel.
Some schools will have several yards (practice lots) going on at once and the instructors walk from yard to yard to check on the students. This sounds good - you're getting time behind the wheel. But if the instructor is monitoring too many students at once you may be making the same mistakes over and over again without any council on how to correct yourself. In essence, you are making your mistakes into habits, and that’s not good. When a student is behind the wheel the instructor should be monitoring the student and making suggestions. Instructors should be there to correct students when they make mistakes. There is a lot to be said about teaching yourself, but you are paying for an instructor, so that instructor should be there while you're trying to learn.
Frequently students are surprised to find out that truck driving schools have job placement assistance. Many assume only schools owned and operated by trucking companies have placement, but that isn't the case. Placement is a very important part of a truck driving school’s program. The main reason students attend school in the first place is to find a new job, and if a school can not or will not place students with a trucking company then something isn't right.
Sure, there may be some students that won’t be able to find placement in the industry, but it is the school’s responsibility to let those students know that they may not find employment in the first place. Any school operating for more than six months knows the basics of what a company is looking for. Students with recent felonies, recent or multiple DUIs, multiple moving violations, accidents, and sketchy job histories will most likely not find placement in the industry and truck driving schools know this. The turnover rate in the over the road trucking industry is extremely high, 100% at some companies. Trucking companies are always looking for students and will continue to hire students from schools that graduate qualified, safe drivers. If very few trucking companies are recruiting from a school you are considering, then consider another school. There must be a reason.
The last point is the most difficult to judge - the instructors. A good truck driving school will have instructors that are experienced, knowledgeable, caring, and capable of teaching. Obviously instructors that have spent less time on the road will have less experience and probably less knowledge about the industry. The Illinois Secretary of State requires a minimum of three verifiable years driving. I believe this is a good place to start but I personally think that truck driving experience is like driving time, the more the better. I have been told that while you are our on the road driving truck you are learning something new every day, and when you stop learning you should stop driving. If you are learning something new every day wouldn’t it be more valuable to have an instructor with more experience? Most certainly.
Instructors should also be knowledgeable about the industry; keeping up with the trends, changes, and new regulations. A school should require their instructors to stay current with the industry and to share their knowledge with the students.
Instructors should care about the students. They should want to help them to succeed, and enjoy their job as a teacher at the same time. I believe a good majority of the schools do hire instructors based in-part on their desire to make a difference, but there will always be people that value the paycheck more than the job and it is the school’s responsibility to find those people and terminate them as soon as possible. Instructors should also be capable of teaching. There are many great truck drivers out there with pins and patches for safety and years of following the rules, but not all of them make good teachers. Any teacher can become a better teacher, but you have to have that desire and ability to begin with.
As I mentioned, it is hard to assess instructors’ abilities, but you should meet with one or two instructors and even with some students from the class to get a better idea of what to expect. Obviously if you get a bad feeling about an instructor, or if students complain about the instructors, you will have better information to help make your choice.
I hope you'll make a lot of phone calls and send out a ton of emails asking the right questions. Do your homework. Evaluate the truck driving schools thoroughly before you sign on the dotted line, and know your priorities when assessing each school.
A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:
OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.
State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.
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