Thousands aspire to get into the trucking industry every year, and truck driving academies or carrier-sponsored schools are often the first route they think of taking to get a CDL.
But truck driving academies, which produce thousands of CDL drivers a year, cost around $4,000 to $6,000. And carrier-sponsored schools can be a good alternative, but some require drivers to work for a year or more with the company after they graduate.
One option sometimes overlooked by aspiring truck drivers is dock-to-driver programs, which can be a steppingstone for someone who may have trouble affording school and who is looking for either local trucking jobs or linehaul work.
Yellow Corp., XPO Logistics, Old Dominion and other less-than-truckload carriers offer dock-to-driver programs to attract workers at their terminals and eventually help people obtain a CDL if they want it.
Tracy Walker, director of safety at Yellow, said the company’s dock-to-driver program is a good way for workers to get started in the industry and see if it’s a good fit for them.
“The program gives external candidates an opportunity to learn more about our company and and more about our dock. It gives them time to get to know people in the facility and then also time to get some of the requirements that they need to go into our driving academies,” Walker told FreightWaves.
Nashville-based Yellow transports industrial, commercial and retail goods. It has more than 300 terminals across the U.S. In 2021, Yellow graduated 650 people from its driver academies and has added five new academies this year.
There is a lot of demand for positions in Yellow’s dock-to-driver program at the company’s terminals around the country, Walker said.
“A lot of the people that we see come into our program are from referrals from current employees,” she said.
Workers in the dock-to-driver program have a chance to learn everything that takes place in a terminal.
“There’s many different opportunities when you get inside the facility,” Walker said. “Dockworkers can potentially do everything from operate forklifts and pallet jacks, as well as loading and unloading and learning some of the skills in regards to placarding for hazardous materials. People can decide if I want to continue doing this or do we want to do driver-related things.”
Yellow’s program gives workers 30 days to get familiar with dock work and the organization.
After 30 days, they can enter one of Yellow’s driver academies, which may have different start dates depending on location. Once a driver graduates from an academy, there’s no obligation or commitment to work as a driver at Yellow.
XPO Logistics’ driving schools give dockworkers the opportunity to grow into higher-paying jobs, officials said. On average, XPO dockworkers earn between $20 and $25 per hour, depending on the market.
Greenwich, Connecticut-based XPO has 294 terminals in its North American network. The company said there are currently a lot of job seekers.
“The number of our job applications is up over 35% compared to this time last year,” XPO said in an email to FreightWaves. “Typically, employees work on the dock for a few weeks prior to their training starting. They also can earn extra wages with part-time dock work while attending training.”
XPO’s driving school is seven weeks, the time it takes students to go from the classroom to behind the wheel as licensed Class A truck drivers.
The company offers free driver school tuition, which it values at $10,000, along with pay during training and benefits from day one. Graduates are asked to give a two-year commitment to XPO.
“In 2021, we graduated nearly 900 student drivers and are aiming to double the number of graduates this year,” XPO said. “We’ve also found that our driver school graduates have a much higher retention rate than external hires.”
Like XPO, officials at Old Dominion Freight Line said their dock-to-driver workers and driving school graduates often stay at the company longer.
Old Dominion is one of the largest North American LTL carriers and has 254 shipping service centers, 32 transfer points and more than 20,000 employees.
The company has been offering dockworkers the Old Dominion Truck Driver Training (ODTDT) program for years, said spokesman Patrick Budd.
“The ODTDT is in short a dock-to-driver program, which has been very successful for us over the years in training our people to become Class A CDL truck drivers for either pickup and delivery or linehaul routes,” Budd told FreightWaves.
Of Old Dominion’s 12,849 current drivers, 3,598 are ODTDT graduates, about 28% of the company’s drivers.
There is no time range for how long workers have to participate in the ODTDT program before going to one of the company’s driving schools. All ODTDT candidates are paid as they go through the program, but pay varies by location and service time to Old Dominion.
In 2021, Old Dominion graduated 577 employees through the ODTDT program and anticipates graduating a total of 829 by the end of this year.
“This has been an extremely successful program for Old Dominion, and it produces many great truck drivers for the company,” Budd said. “This program is a bright spot in an environment where it can be difficult to find drivers. We’ve spent a lot of time developing this program to produce a good pipeline of talent.”
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