COVID-19 has turned the world of truck driver training upside down, according to Brad Ball, president of Roadmaster Drivers School and Career Path Training Corp.
Ball told Don Lefeve, president and CEO of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), that Roadmaster schools are operating at less than 70% of pre-COVID enrollment. Ball and Lefeve sat down for a virtual fireside chat during the FreightWaves Carrier Summit on Wednesday.
Ball said smaller class sizes due to social distancing guidelines and headwinds with regulatory agencies issuing permits are limiting new drivers entering the industry. He doesn’t believe these impacts will end anytime soon.
Lefeve said CVTA, the nation’s largest trade association representing truck driver schools, was “right on target” with its estimate that enrollment would be down 40%. He said state driver’s license agencies’ ability to administer commercial driver’s license (CDL) knowledge and skills tests have been hampered and that agencies in nine different states remain “severely impacted.”
On the potential for lasting impacts from COVID, Ball believes recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) waivers allowing third parties to administer CDL knowledge tests versus in-person testing at a DMV are likely to continue. The recent success in third-party testing along with budget concerns and backlogs at various state agencies were offered as reasons the current fix may become permanent.
“I think the testing issue needs to get solved. On a personal level, I’m hopeful that governments will reassess how to deliver things better, faster, cheaper,” Lefeve commented. He believes the aging demographics of the driver pool are increasing the need for more drivers.
Retiring baby boomers along with a diminished supply of drivers due to the pandemic have created a “hole that’s not going to be filled,” Ball said. “If there was a shortage before COVID started, although it may temporarily be masked by perhaps a lower demand for drivers during COVID, I believe what we’re going to find is the shortage is just going to be greater on the backside of this event.”
He believes that all parties will need to work together to find a solution to maintain a sufficient pipeline of drivers.
Regarding issues on the horizon, Ball said the FMCSA’s entry-level driving training (ELDT) rule that establishes new minimum training standards aimed at improving roadway safety is likely to eliminate “CDL mills” and “level the playing field” for all driver training institutions.
Implementation of the rule has been delayed to February 2022 to give the FMCSA time to finish developing its Training Provider Registry.
Lefeve sees the ELDT rule as a “huge benefit to safety.”