Every business and organization in the nation relies on truck drivers to deliver goods. Though the nation is becoming increasingly automated, this profession still needs qualified truck drivers to ferry produce, manufactured goods, and raw materials across the country. For the drivers, long-haul trucking offers an opportunity to see the U.S., work independently, and make a great living. However, they all need one thing – a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Since driving a semi-truck is a bit more complicated and demanding than driving an automobile, there are special training programs that prepare drivers for the open road.
This page has been created to inform future truckers with the knowledge they need prior to seeking a truck driving school. It's important to realize that these programs can vary in terms of their reputation, cost, and ability to help a driver land a well-paid position. With the following information, students will be sure to find the best trade school for truck driving.
What Programs Are Available for Truck Driving?
Those who seek a career in commercial trucking are in luck. Nearly every town has some sort of resource for future drivers to learn their trade, master a specialty, and earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL). These programs can be found at community colleges or through specialized vocational programs.
Truck driving training courses don't take much time to complete, relative to other training programs. Many take only around 300 hours, which translates into approximately 8-10 weeks. In fact, some programs offer flexible weekend classes or other solutions to help working students accomplish their goals. However, future students should do their research to find the very best program for them.
One thing to look for is both a program's graduation rate and the rate at which graduates earn their CDL. It's also important to compare how many hours students will get behind the wheel versus classroom time. Future drivers need to spend as much time as possible driving big rigs so that they can become the best drivers possible and have some sort of experience to list on their resumes.
Drivers should also be sure that their program will prepare them for the specific CLD they desire. For those looking to become long-haul truckers who drive tractor trailers, the CDL-A will facilitate this career. For those who are more likely to stay in town and drive buses, dump trucks, delivery, and garbage trucks, the CDL-B is what they want.
Here is a brief list of trucking schools in the United States:
- Johnson County Community College – Overland Park, KS
- Cecil College – North East, MD
- IITR Truck School – Bend, Oregon
- Atlanta CDL Training – Conyers and Columbus, Georgia
- Illinois Central College – East Peoria, IL
What Will You Learn in a Truck Driving Program?
Truck driving programs are fairly single-minded. They teach their students how to safely and effectively drive and otherwise operate very large vehicles on the streets and highways of the United States. However, there can be separate tracks for students to follow, each of which has its own objectives and outcomes.
Perhaps the track that most people think of when they think of a truck driving program is the CDL-A track. These drivers are trained to operate large, long-haul semi-trucks and trailers. Their classroom training covers things like pre-trip truck inspections, trip planning, air brake systems, how to couple and uncouple a payload, maintaining a logbook, and much more. Many students will be interested to know that this part of the training can be delivered online.
The other track is for CDL-B drivers. Their classroom work covers much of the same points including truck safety, mechanics, air brakes, backing up maneuvers, and pre-trip inspection, among other items. This classroom knowledge can be delivered online and thus enable drivers to complete a large part of their training on a flexible schedule. However, not every school will have this online option, so students are urged to investigate this to ensure that they choose the program that is right for them.
Both CDL-A and B students will have practical aspects to their training which must be taken in person. They will need to apply their classroom knowledge in areas such as pre-trip inspections. Drivers will be tested on the range for things such as coupling a trailer (for CDL-A), parallel parking, straight line back-ups, and more. Once their skills have been proven on the closed driving range, both CDL-A and CDL-B students apply and prove their knowledge on the open road.
Being a successful truck driver requires more than a good driving record, though exceptional driving skills is extremely important. Below are the necessary skills to be a top truck driver.
- Great Communication:
Must be able to communicate effectively, notifying the right people of delivery delays, heavy traffic, assignment changes, and any other issue. Must also be able to engage in active listening.
- Exceptional Hearing Abilities:
Must be able to hear exceptional well, according to federal regulations.
- Excellent Visual Abilities:
Should pass vision tests and have good hand-eye coordination.
- Organizational Skills:
Should be extremely organized to keep up with hours of service, expense receipts, trip reports, and maintenance/repair records.
- Mechanically Savvy:
Must possess mechanical knowledge to repair and maintain certain equipment. You never know when you might end up stuck on the side of the road or need to do some small maintenance yourself to save the hours it might take to get a truck-savvy mechanic on site.
An ability to stay motivated to get the job done.
Should always be alert when transporting cargo, demonstrating excellent road awareness.
- Excellent Driving Skills:
Must have a clean driving record.
- Critical Thinking Skills:
Critical thinking will provide drivers with the ability to solve a wide variety of problems on their own.
Must be able to respond appropriately to a variety of situations which will often not be optimal.
Must be extremely reliable, making safety a top priority. A responsible truck driver will keep mishaps and accidents from happening.
- Excellent Navigation Skills:
A strong ability to interpret a compass, read a map, and understand the rules of the road.
Financing and Scholarships
While truck driving education programs don't qualify for FAFSA aid or other federal government programs, drivers do have many great funding options for their formal training. Some state legislatures have allocated funds for their tradespeople and there are private foundations, too.
Here are a few funding options for aspiring truckers:
This grant is available to future truck drivers who wish to study in a branch of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses. The grant will cover up to $2,000 in tuition for qualifying students. This covers the entire cost for TCAT's Truck Driving program.
This independent foundation is dedicated to helping America's tradespeople afford the training they need and thus launch terrific, fulfilling careers.
This generous foundation helps students cover the cost of their technical and trade education. The foundation has a scholarship program for high school students, adult learners, and military students. With their help, truckers can hit the road debt-free.
Choosing A Truck Driving Program
Online vs. On-Campus
These days, colleges and universities are both migrating toward online education. The pandemic also seems to have sped the adoption of this educational mode. While truckers must take the practical parts of their training behind the wheel of a real-live truck, the other half of the training is done in classrooms. For the classroom portion of the training, many schools are putting that material online. This way, future truckers can fit the classroom portion into their lives and still work their current jobs. For the practical portion of the truck driving training, schools strive to make that as flexible as possible and thus offer sessions on the weekend or at times that work best for their students.
For the online portion, students are urged to set aside ample time to complete the reading, review the material, and complete the assignments. Time management is imperative when it comes to online learning, as are the dedication and discipline to complete the work in a given time frame.
Job Placement Assistance
Trucking programs strive to have their alumni land meaningful, long-term employment. Most trucking schools will offer job placement assistance to their graduates. In fact, employers often work with these schools to help facilitate their hiring process. However, since these jobs often fill very quickly, schools may also keep in touch with those graduates who don't land a job immediately. Schools often will send graduates job notices until every student has landed a job and has remained employed there for at least 30 days.
Some trade schools and community colleges have well-developed career services programs to help all of their students, regardless of their major. These career development offices can help students with their resume writing, interview skills, and even job listings. It's also common for schools to host job fairs where community employers take resumes and speak with students. In a larger community college or vocational school, these fairs may feature a wide range of jobs from a variety of industries. Qualified drivers may even find surprising opportunities in industries they hadn't yet considered.
How long does it take to complete a truck driving program?
A typical CDL training course will take between 8 and 10 weeks. Since many programs offer the classroom portion via an online portal, students may be able to expedite this time frame. When students focus and dedicate several hours to their studies on a day off, for example, they can knock out a lot of their classroom work. The practical, driving portion isn't as flexible, but when students schedule ample time, they can complete that work with little disruption to their life.
How much does a truck driving program cost?
Depending on the school, a truck driving program can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, if not more. Students can often offset these costs with a grant or scholarship. Some schools even have relationships with employers who will help students repay any loans they may have taken. Students are urged to discuss tuition and financing with an academic advisor.
Is there specific accreditation for truck driving?
The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) is an agency that certifies truck driving schools. Students should also look for membership in the American Trucking Association, the National Safety Council, or the Truckload Carriers Association. Students should also look for certification from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Individual states also require that all educational institutions in their borders receive licensure. Students are urged to investigate their school's credentials and overall reputation prior to enrollment.