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Creating a Paid CDL Training Program for Your Company

Finding quality candidates to fill your open truck driver positions is vital to the success of your business. With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that the demand for truck drivers will increase by 6% by 2030, other companies are likely hoping to attract the same individuals. Developing and implementing a paid CDL training program is one way to gain an advantage and encourage quality candidates to apply for your open positions.


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What is paid CDL training?

To operate tractor-trailers and other types of commercial vehicles, drivers must hold a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL. In February 2022, a new law took effect that mandates all new drivers to complete a training program registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).


Paid CDL training means that your company hires individuals who possess desirable skills and qualifications but do not hold CDL licenses, and then pays them to attend training that you provide or facilitate. CDL company training can enhance your recruitment efforts.


In addition, a program ensures that your new drivers have the necessary training to safely operate your company’s vehicles. Providing paid training also demonstrates that you’re willing to invest in your team and may improve employee satisfaction and retention.


Related: New Employee Training for Every Manager


Types of company-paid CDL training

You can structure your paid CDL training program in a variety of ways. Which type of program is right for your company depends on:


  • How quickly you wish to implement your program
  • What resources you already have available
  • How much control you wish to have over the curriculum
  • Budgetary constraints

Apprenticeship programs

Apprentice programs allow new hires to gain experience by shadowing an experienced driver. Often, the apprenticeship begins with classroom-based instruction that reviews basic safety rules. Then, apprentices get in the passenger seat and learn from observing. When they show readiness, they get time behind the wheel to practice.


The U.S. Department of Labor provides a framework that you can follow when developing the curriculum for a new apprentice program. You’ll likely need to hire at least one instructor and work with supervisors to determine which employees have the skills necessary to serve as effective mentors.


Most companies with apprentice programs have a single training location. As a result, new hires may need to travel to complete their apprenticeships. If this is true for your new hires, you may wish to provide free transportation, lodging and meals to eliminate potential barriers to participation.


Company-sponsored in-house programs

With a company-sponsored in-house training program, your company provides formal on-the-job training to satisfy the CDL education requirements. To do this, you’ll need to register your program with the FMCSA. Registration is voluntary, but you’ll need to certify that your program:


  • Complies with classroom behind-the-wheel instruction curriculum guidelines
  • Uses classrooms and driving courses that comply with FMCSA standards
  • Hires classroom and behind-the-wheel instructors who meet FMCSA eligibility requirements
  • Supplies students with practice vehicles that comply with federal and state safety standards

An in-house program allows you to provide training in multiple locations and to be fully in control of what participants learn and at what pace instruction takes place. However, you’ll also need to hire a team of instructors for each location and spend time creating a program that complies with all FMCSA rules.


Company-sponsored external programs

To jump-start your company-paid CDL training program, you can partner with registered training providers, such as trade schools and community colleges. With this arrangement, you register new hires for a training course at the nearest registered provider, and they attend classes according to the school’s schedule.


In addition to paying for the cost of the class, you compensate your employees for the time they spend in class. Training new drivers through third-party schools frees you of the responsibility of developing your own program. You can also compare the curricula offered at various schools to find ones that offer the programs most conducive to your needs.


Using external programs does have downsides that you need to be aware of. New hires may need to wait weeks or months for new classes to begin, and you won’t have any say in how long the training takes or how much it costs. In addition, you may struggle to find registered training programs in your area and may need to pay for travel, food and lodging for your new hires to attend a course elsewhere.


Tuition reimbursement programs

Another simple way to launch paid CDL training is to institute a tuition reimbursement program. This allows new hires to select a registered training provider with a location and schedule that fits their individual needs. They then enroll in the program on their own, pay for their tuition and receive a reimbursement from you to cover all the costs.


You may also wish to pay them a weekly or monthly stipend to pay for their living expenses while they attend classes. In addition to providing employees with more freedom of choice, a tuition reimbursement program makes it possible for you to provide company-paid CDL training without having to review providers internally.


Choosing this type of training also enables you to extend the benefits to candidates who obtained their CDL licenses before applying for your open position, if you wish. Tuition reimbursement programs usually require new drivers to have funds available to pay for their training out of pocket, and this may pose a financial hardship for some individuals.


You can mitigate this by offering to pay tuition directly or referring employees to the following potential resources:


  • Veteran Affairs Education Benefits programs
  • Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) offered through the Department of Education
  • Grants provided through the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act

Best practices for CDL company training

To ensure the success of your CDL company training program, follow these tips:


  • Highlight the training program in your job description. When writing a job description, place information about your training program in a prominent location. Positioning at the very top or in bold lettering near the qualifications and duties section will help this attractive perk stand out to prospective drivers.
  • Use an employee referral program to spread the word. Your current drivers can serve as a powerful recruitment tool, especially if you provide incentives for them to recommend quality candidates. Remind your team about the incentives available through your employee referral program and explain your new paid CDL training program, so they can spread the word. Consider establishing a referral program if your company doesn’t have one.
  • Evaluate the training program periodically. Even with careful planning, you can’t always predict how effective your CDL company training program will be. Regularly evaluating your training program allows you to identify areas of improvement and refine the curriculum or format to set new hires up for success. Gather feedback from those who complete the course and supervisors as a part of the evaluation process.
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