As president & CEO of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), Don Lefeve knows all too well the problems carriers are facing today. The issue of too few drivers is compounded by states that are taking too long to get those who want to drive tested and simply not enough funding to help those who may make great truck drivers but can’t afford to pay the tuition.
“We are seeing schools with lines out the door of trucking companies looking to hire our students,” Lefeve says. “This is a big story and the problem is nobody understands what the issues are.”
Lefeve, who spoke with FreightWaves at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas this week, says that getting financing for new students is among the biggest obstacles facing CVTA-member schools. That is made worse by states that refuse to allow third-party CDL testing and as a result, students can wait months before taking their CDL.
“The delays are such a problem because you have someone who spends 8 weeks training and then has another month or two to wait,” he points out. Twenty-four states allow third-party CDL testing.
CVTA was founded in 1996 as a way to provide drivers quality training programs. So-called CDL mills, to that point, were churning out drivers that many in the industry believed were not trained properly. CVTA has about 200 schools in its membership across 42 states, training about 50,000 students per year. Member schools must commit to at least 160 hours of training, including 40 hours behind the wheel.
“We’re a big proponent of training and safety through training,” Lefeve says. He notes that CVTA was involved in the negotiated rulemaking FMCSA conducted in 2015 to develop entry-level driver training, and he is still hopeful that will be implemented by 2020.
Beyond the wait times to get CDL tests, Lefeve believes the biggest issue facing member schools is a lack of funding. Most states have workforce development programs that can help cover tuition for students, but there isn’t enough money to go around and that is keeping qualified students away.
“If we could finance more students, I think that could help,” he says.
With that said, Lefeve says that enrollment remains strong at member schools, due in part, he believes, to the pay increases carriers have been implementing in the past year.
“The message is getting out,” they’re paying and these are careers you can get into,” Lefeve says.
CVTA, on May 9, was also approved for an apprenticeship program, which means it can help carriers set up driver apprenticeships through its schools.
One change Lefeve says CVTA has seen is the average age of students dropping. In its most recent survey this year, the average student age is now 34 to 36 years old, down slightly from previous years. That is still high, though.
“Trucking has become a job of last resort, not first choice,” he notes. “We believe it should be a job of first choice.”
Many in the industry have been pushing for 18-20 year olds to be allowed to drive interstate. Lefeve says that is something he supports – with a qualification.
“To be clear, safety is first,” he says. “It doesn’t mean every 18 year old should drive.”
Giving 18 year olds a chance to get involved in the industry is a way to help make trucking a first choice, Lefeve says. To get there, he notes, the industry needs the entry level driver training rule and passage of the SAFE DRIVE Act, which would require 400 hours of training, is a great start, Lefeve believes.
“If you’re allowed to have 18 year olds, you can get the right people in the job – this isn’t the right job for everyone – and that can help reduce turnover and costs,” he says.
Lefeve also notes that the minimum interstate driving age of 21 is a regulatory mandate, not a law, so it doesn’t require Congress to act. If it so chooses, FMCSA could issue a regulatory change to alter the age limit.
“You have to have continued learning,” Lefeve points out. “They don’t have as much experience so they need more drive time.”
CVTA is on the front lines of the driver shortage, and Lefeve sees some solutions, but he needs some help, and it starts with funding both tuition for those students that need financial assistance, and ensuring states have the resources necessary to test students so they can obtain their CDLs.