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.