The need for truck drivers with Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) in Southern Maryland and beyond is loud and clear at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM), said Mary Beth McCollum, senior director at CSM’s Center for Transportation Training. Enrollment is steady, but more than that, employers are knocking.
“We have at least 10 companies waiting on the sidelines of our classes looking for drivers and those companies are offering our students employment before they even complete the program,” McCollum said.
One such company is Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Schneider International Trucking. With 15,000 trucks on the road hauling everything from food, to freight, to hazardous material, Schneider is always looking for qualified drivers.
“CSM runs a great program,” offered John Cavy, Schneider regional operations manager. “The program is very structured and they turn out good students. I don’t think Eric [CSM CDL Program Manager and Master Trainer Eric McCollum] would ever let a student leave the program until they are ready and meet his high standards.”
“It’s never been harder to hire long-haul truck drivers, even though companies are making the job more lucrative, less aggravating and more inclusive,” NPR’s Frank Morris recently reported. “The driver shortage stretches back a quarter century, and lately a run-up in freight demand, staggeringly high turnover rates and waves of baby boomer retirements are compounding the problem.”
The NPR report echoes what Cavy has said for some time.
“We don’t have a CDL driver crisis today,” he offered. “It’s the way of life. There has been a CDL shortage since the turn of the 20th century. It’s always been this way.”
With a background as a a former CDL instructor and owning a trucking company before working with Schneider, Cavy explained that tractor trailer driving is a demanding way of life, turnover is high, and regulations keep getting tougher.
“Tractor trailer drivers aren’t home every night,” he explained of the trade. “The drivers are out on the open road making decisions on their own day and night. They decide which route to take when there is an accident, or inclement weather. They have to negotiate with customers on their own. They are always on a deadline and while alone in the seat, they have to think about everything and everyone around them on the road, all the time. That’s why there is a lot of turnover.”
New Federal Standards Are Coming in 2020
Whether a shortage or a way of life, Mary Beth McCollum, CSM Senior Director, Transportation Programs, who also serves on the board for the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS), said new national standards that take effect in less than a year could make finding and retaining qualified CDL drivers even harder.
Starting in February 2020, every person who wants a CDL has to be formally trained by an institution accredited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Currently, anyone can walk into the Motor Vehicle Administration and take CDL driving and written test with, or without, taking a class or finishing a CDL certified program, Mary Beth McCollum explained.
“The new 2020 national standard is not widely known yet,” she said. “The industry changes are unfolding and the news is just starting to hit the street.”
As an instructor, Eric McCollum works with students during CSM’s seven-week program to provide 280 hours of training that begins in the classroom to prepare students for CDL learner’s permit. After class time, students move to the driving range where they begin to learn how to put the truck in motion. Students learn hand position, driving, backing, parking as well as how to perform under-the-hood vehicle inspections. Students must also master road rules, regulations and numerous safety issues of the road state-by-state, including human trafficking.
“I welcome the new standards,” Eric McCollum said. “Anything that makes the industry better and safer is OK with me. This is not a case of creating ‘extra red tape.’ This is a case of making our truck drivers and our interstates safer.”
“The College of Southern Maryland is ready and prepared to offer the new required training,” Mary Beth McCollum added. “And we are starting to hear from private and public sectors about setting our memorandums of understanding in order to keep a steady flow of certified drivers trained.”
Today’s CDL Students
Having trouble finding a steady flow of certified drivers is why the owner of Hughesville-based Innovative Pyrotechnic Concepts, Tim Jameson, and his employee Michael Richards, recently completed CSM’s seven-week CDL course. Jameson started his fireworks company, which has capabilities that range from small, intimate, private shows to large-scale pyro musical productions of any size for cities, municipalities, festivals and sporting events, in 2013.
“We have always had a hard time getting trucking companies to pick up our containers from the ports,” Jameson explained, adding that some of his company’s hazardous loads contain 40,000 pounds of explosives. “It has been getting more and more difficult to find drivers and their costs just keep rising.”
Both Jameson and Richards had no prior truck driving experience when they started CSM’s class, but said they found the class to be fun, and exciting.
“I am nervous, but I respect the truck and our load,” said Jameson. “This job is a big responsibility and safety is imperative. This is really a case of we couldn’t find any drivers so we decided to do it ourselves. I am very glad that we are taking this course and will handle all aspects of the safety of our products.”
Jameson’s classmate Justin McGowan, 21, of Huntingtown, Maryland, said the course is changing his life.
“I had never touched a clutch in my life before I got to class,” McGowan laughed. He shared that he has lived in different locations up and down the east coast as his family moved with each military assignment.
“One day my mom and I were discussing a story about the need for truck drivers and I thought it would be a great way for me to travel and see all of the friends I’ve made along the way – and make a great living.” McGowan waited until now to enroll, he said, because CDL drivers have to be 21 years old to cross state lines.
Job placement won’t be an issue, confirmed another CSM classmate Dave Proctor, of Mechanicsville, Maryland. “I put in my application for this class, and was immediately offered a job,” Proctor piped in. “Almost immediately I got the call and was asked, ‘when can you start?’”
‘Truck drivers are the backbone of moving this country’s commerce’
In October 2018, CSM hosted a two-day NAPFTDS Conference to bring trucking industry advocates, regulators, trainers and companies together to further shed light on the new regulations, review trends and share best practices.
Maryland Motor Truck Association (MMTA) President Louis Campion told conference attendees that 71 percent of all freight tonnage is done by tractor trailer drivers. In Maryland alone, 112,900 truck drivers moved 88 percent of the manufactured freight to help pay more than $6 billion in wages.
“Truck drivers are the backbone of moving this country’s commerce,” said Eric McCollum. “And it’s not a bad living. Drivers who stay local can earn $42,000 a year; and those who drive across county – or ‘open road’ – can earn up to $60,000 a year. Walmart just upped the bar by offering new drivers nearly $90,000 a year.”
According to a Walmart press release, the company raised driver pay as of February. “A 1-cent per-mile increase and additional pay for every arrival means that Walmart drivers will now earn on average $87,500 a year and with an all-in rate close to 89 cents per mile,” the release stated.
In fact, driver wages have grown for the fourth consecutive year. Campion shared that the industry will need to require 90,000 drivers over the next decade, less the 174,000 driver seats need to be filled by 2026.
Campion said that MMTA is tackling the economic demand signal by supporting Employer Advancement Right Now (EARN) grants and has raised $86,000 for the MMTA Scholarship Fund to help students pay for the new training. The organization is also looking into starting up a new program “Troops to Trucks,” modeled after a California Department of Motor Vehicles program that makes it easier for personnel trained by the military in the operation of heavy vehicles to obtain a civilian commercial driver license.
CSM is Here to Help
CSM offers Commercial Trucker Driver Class-A (CDL-A) and Commercial Driver’s License Class-B (CDL-B) training. The CDL-A course trains students to operate combination trucks: tractor trailer, straight trucks, dump trucks and other commercial delivery trucks. The CDL-B course trains students to operate passenger transport vehicles such as motor coaches and school buses as well as straight trucks, dump trucks and other commercial delivery trucks.
CSM is among the few schools in the country that have earned certification by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) for its Class A program. A certification through a PTDI accredited program is recognized in the industry and enhances a student’s resume.
The Class A CDL program also provides college credit for students with the opportunity to earn a scholarship. Students in CSM’s non-credit CDL courses can seek funding through grants awarded by agencies such as Southern Maryland Works or Maryland Division of Rehabilitative Services as well as the College of Southern Maryland Foundation.
CSM also offers school bus driver training and former graduates of class A or B can upgrade to a bus driver license.
Students must be at least 21 years of age, pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam and drug screening, possess a valid Maryland or Virginia driver’s license, have no more than three points on their driving record, and maintain zero points for drug or alcohol violations to participate in this training. Students must also be willing to participate in random drug and/or alcohol testing.
CSM also offers classes for driver education and motorcycle safety. For more information, visit the CSM Center for Transportation online at https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/career-development/transportation/.
The Maryland Motor Truck Association (MMTA) Scholarship was established in 2009 by the MMTA in support of students enrolled in a trucking or transportation related program. For information or to apply, visit https://foundation.csmd.edu/making-a-difference/scholarships/index.html.