On this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road, guest host Leah Shaver, president and CEO of the National Transportation Institute, chats with Brad Ball, the president of Roadmaster Drivers School, one of the largest CDL training networks in the U.S.
During his 26 years working at Roadmaster, Ball has witnessed many industry changes related to driver hiring and training, noting improved standards for hiring drivers, lessons learned by finance companies financing truck driver students, increased driver retention, a greater driver-centric focus and improved pay.
Though much has changed over the years, one thing has remained true: “There would be no experienced drivers in the world without entry-level drivers. At some point, every entry-level driver has to drive their first mile,” Ball said.
Roadmaster Drivers School helps drivers achieve that first mile. Ball joined Roadmaster in 1997 to establish its early student financing models. As time went on and the company grew, he began to contribute to budgetary and policy decisions and eventually became president of the company in 2015.
Like many industries, it’s true that hiring experienced truck drivers is often easier than hiring entry-level drivers. Over the years, as freight volumes have fluctuated, Ball has observed some schools in the industry close during times of low freight volumes as some companies source talent from experienced driver pools over new talent. However, the needle always eventually moves. Roadmaster takes a long-term approach to growing the driver base.
“We’ve been here over 30 years, and we’ve got some great long-standing relationships from carriers that have training programs but have long-term views towards hiring students as a significant portion of their base. They’ll continue doing that under any market conditions. So, as a result, our graduates today have great career opportunities,” Ball explained.
While right now is one of those moments with low freight volume, and Ball observed that the driver shortage appears less prevalent right now, he believes the underlying driver deficit will come back strong eventually and carriers will need to hire new talent to keep up. With the average age of an over-the-road truck driver 46, according to one report, and many nearing retirement age, Ball said hiring only experienced drivers will ignore the long-term reality of the issue.
Bringing young people into the industry would help combat the shortage, but federal rules prohibit drivers under the age of 21 from obtaining CDLs, making it a challenge to promote to high school graduates. This means missing out on a significant portion of the population of potential drivers each year.
Other long-standing industry issues have continued to be roadblocks to attracting and retaining drivers, like home time and benefits, for example, and that’s been true for the younger generations as well.
“We need to continue to improve in areas that make the career more attractive to young people,” Ball said.
Young people aren’t the only underrepresented group in the trucking industry. There is also a lack of diversity. But Ball noted seeing promising signs of change with representation from women, Black/African-American and Latino/Hispanic groups growing.
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