Truck driving schools say they're seeing a rush of people wanting to get behind the wheel. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports.
ARMADA -- In this uncertain economy, Andrew Tanghe is hoping for a career that lasts for the long haul.
So Tanghe, who is unemployed, stopped by an open house Monday sponsored by Baker College's Center for Truck Driving that gave prospective drivers a taste of what it's like to drive a big rig -- from the seat of a high-tech, $150,000 simulator.
The simulator is like an Xbox 360 driving game on steroids. It features three large video screens that serve as a big rig's windows, a realistic instrument panel, driver's seat, steering wheel and gear shift lever.
Turns out it wasn't easy to drive the virtual rig -- Tanghe blew out a tire and drove through a fence.
"I don't want that to ever happen to me for real," said Tanghe, 26, of Casco Township in St. Clair County, who is hoping to sign up for Baker's program.
Interest in truck driving schools like the program offered through Baker College of Port Huron is on the rise, said Mike O'Connell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association in Washington, D.C.
Dan Kenny, vice president of admissions for Baker, agrees. "There's no doubt the economy is driving interest and enrollment in all of our courses," he said. Baker offers a truck driving program at its campuses in Allen Park, Cadillac, Cass City, Flint and West Branch.
The school offers two truck driving courses each year, one in the spring and one in fall. The school has already signed up 14 students for this year's 20-week-long spring course, he said.
Truck driving appeals to those who are looking for work because it's a good, stable job, O'Connell said.
"The average driver still starts between $38,000 and $40,000 a year with benefits," he said. "It only goes up from there."
"And it's one of the few jobs in America that can't be outsourced," he said.
The sputtering economy has somewhat dampened demand for truck drivers as large freight movements have slowed, but good, experienced drivers can always find work, he said.
"If the economy is functioning at all, anything you buy has moved by truck on average five times," O'Connell said.
"The industry is about 7 percent of the gross national product and largely invisible, except when things aren't there."
New York-based L-3 Link Simulation & Training, which specializes in aircraft simulators, created the simulation machine used for Monday's open house, said Carl Vogler, one of Baker's truck driving instructors. The program has used the machine to train future drivers for the last four years, he said.
A computer enables instructors like Vogler to put a student driver in dozens of different types of trucks and situations. Instructors can configure different shift patterns for the transmissions of everything from a tractor-trailer to a municipal dump truck.
Vogler can make the simulated trip a pleasure drive down the highway on a summer day, or he can make it a jaunt so grueling over icy roads that it'll turn the driver's knuckles white.
Just ask Kevin Dunn, 50, of New Baltimore, who took a buyout from Ford Motor Co. last year and is looking at starting a second career as a truck driver. Vogler put him through the paces and Dunn ended up jackknifing his rig and sliding across an interstate highway.
"I wish I could spend more time on it," he said after a quick trial. "It seemed very realistic. I wish I could get one for my home."
April 6-10 marks the 10th anniversary of National Work Zone Awareness Week. The national campaign is conducted every year at the start of the construction season to attract national attention to drive carefully through highway construction and repair sites. Each year, approximately 1,000 people are killed in roadway work zones and, with the recent enactment of the President’s economic recovery package which supports a good deal of highway repair and construction funding, 2009 could be one of the most active highway repair seasons in recent memory. The national kick- off media event takes place Tuesday, April 7 at 10 a.m in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The slogan for the 2009 event is “Drive To Survive – Our Future Is Riding On It.” To view activities from past years events, click here .
To view the 2009 National Work Zone Awareness Week Poster, click here .
Chattanooga, TN – Mr. Dennis McDonald a Professional driver for Covenant Transport received the Master Truck Driver Award from the Indiana Motor Truck Association on February 24 at the Indianapolis terminal. This will be the 2nd award given to a Covenant Driver from the Indiana Motor Truck Association.
The Master Truck Driver Awards qualifications include an accident free driving record for one million miles or 10 years of service, no traffic citations within the past 3 years and a record of community service or continuing professional education. It is estimated that less than 2% of the nation’s driver will ever qualify for this award.
Mr. McDonald was hired by Covenant Transport on April 17, 2000. Since his employment he has achieved 1,700,643 accident free miles, has obtained the title of master trainer on June 2006.
Federal regulation of the interstate trucking industry began in 1935. But, as with other industries, economic research throughout the 1960s and early 1970s showed that trucking rates would be far lower in a competitive marketplace. Given that and a growing opposition to interstate regulation, Congress passed legislation in 1980 that virtually deregulated the trucking industry. “Since then, the industry has transformed itself,” says Harry Kowalchyk, Jr., president of National Tractor Trailer School, Inc.
With campuses in Liverpool and Buffalo, New York, Kowlachyk and his business partner, William Mocarski, co-founded NTTS in 1971. Since then, NTTS has trained over 17,000 men and women as entry-level tractor trailer and heavy truck drivers, and has placed its graduates with over 600 national and local companies. Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), NTTS offers courses certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI).
“Prior to deregulation there were approximately 17,000 to 18,000 regulated interstate companies. Since deregulation, there are well over 40,000; so the industry has seen substantial growth. That, in turn, created a tremendous need for more drivers,” he says, adding, “that is but one change the industry has seen. Additionally, the implementation of the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) further increased the need for qualified drivers.
“The industry wasn’t perceived as a lucrative profession in the early 1980s. To attract new drivers, companies began implementing better compensation packages, home-time policies, and tried to create a more driver friendly environment to recruit new drivers from different backgrounds. Currently, we are seeing that go from real headhunting of drivers to more selective and stricter pre-screening. A company no longer has to settle for an inferior driver,” says Kowalchyk. “I’m not suggesting that companies do that, but if you have a lot of trucks sitting against a fence, you might be tempted to put somebody in there that you wouldn’t normally put behind the wheel.”
“The industry has also seen the rise and fall of the CDL mills, the two-week CDL courses, free training, and things of this nature. The whole industry went through a nosedive along with predatory lending that occurred in educational loans and the mortgage business where everything was overly inflated. Now reality is starting to sink in,” he continues.
Kowalchyk says, however, many trucking companies are telling him these things are both good and bad for driver training schools. “There’s a silver lining to this cloud. Companies are raising their criteria and qualifications for drivers. Companies will think twice about hiring a person who graduated from a CDL-mill type school versus someone who graduated from an accredited school or a school with PTDI-certified courses. That, ultimately, is a safer driver. In other words, they are going to truly get their pick now. The cream will always rise to the top when it comes to training,” he explains. “If you take a look at the survivors in this business, people who have been around for a long time—and there are some very good non-accredited schools and some that don’t have certified courses that have been around for a long period of time—you’ll see that they haven’t sacrificed the quality of their instruction just to be competitive.”
Some of the schools that have been around the longest have comprehensive programs, including more behind-the-wheel training, and more in-depth subject material added to their courses, Kowalchyk notes.
“I never thought I’d see the day that we’d be teaching drivers things like business operations. What does that have to do with getting a license or driving, some might ask? Well, I think they should know something about business because if their truck is two hours late for a delivery and they’ve got a payload on there worth $40,000, and there’s an assembly line that needs all those parts by tomorrow afternoon, that driver better know about business operations. They better understand their cost per mile and how much it costs to operate. If a driver understands the operational side of trucking, dispatching and such, they’ll not only be able to comprehend more, but they’re going to become a more productive employee all the way around.”
“The industry has worked on recruitment and retention for the last 25 or 30 years, and it’s made some great advances. With today’s economy, we are not seeing the big shortage of drivers as in past years, and there is not a huge retention problem right now because drivers are hesitant to jump around.”
Where does Kowalchyk see the future of driver training schools headed? “The more marketable the product, and the more crosstraining that you provide to your students, the better success you have. Is there going to be a fallout of smaller schools? Absolutely. Unfortunately, some good ones will fall out, too. But, there’s also going to be a weeding out process, and it will force training to improve for those that need to be improved. They will turn out a better driver who is more competitive and has more soft-skills training. The industry will improve overall. Obviously, if a company hires a safer, better trained driver, accidents and injuries decrease, safety records improve, insurance rates go down, and profits go up.”
NOTE: Schneider National, the largest trucking company in the country (featured in the Career Education Review, December 2008), is now hiring only experienced drivers and has closed its driving schools. Offering free training, Schneider trained over 10,000 drivers a year.
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