Where Did All Of The Free CDL Training Programs Go?

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a closer at the history of CDL training.  I'll discuss how the industry has changed and where it's headed in the future.  To get started, let's drive right into a controversial topic - free CDL training.

In this post, we'll answer 3 important questions:

  1. Did "free" CDL training ever really exist?
  2. What change caused trucking companies like Schneider, JB Hunt and others to stop offering their own truck driving schools?
  3. What are some good options for drivers today?

The Myth of Free CDL Training – Does It Really Exist?

Free CDL training – fact or fiction? In the 1990’s, it seemed as though every trucking company was advertising some type of free CDL training program.  The truth is, no program was ever completely free.  While companies promoted their training program as free, students would soon realize that was almost always some type of catch involved.  The bottom line is that if well known names in the trucking industry such as Schneider, Swift and England weren't going to train inexperienced drivers without expecting something in return.  After all, what sense does it make to invest hours of time and thousands of dollars to train a driver who has no intentions to work for your company?  

It was not uncommon then and still isn't uncommon now for trucking companies to require an agreement or contract in exchange for covering upfront training costs for truck driving school.  Typically these agreements are anywhere from 6 months - 2 years, but there is always some type of commitment needed from the driver to justify the trucking company providing the CDL training. 

If you’ve considered a trucking career for very long at all, you might have seen newspaper ads featuring England’s free training program or a free Swift school. It's certainly easy to get blinded by the concept of "free," it’s a powerful word that always gets a person’s attention. It always reminds me of the old saying “you get what you pay for.”  Ask yourself - is any reputable trucking company going to train me for free without expecting something in return?

Tuition Reimbursement ≠ Free CDL Training

Yet another creative way to use “free CDL training” is to offer tuition reimbursement to drivers. This type of plan only works after a truck driver has paid for his/her own truck driver training. Tuition reimbursement is used as a driver retention tool to entice drivers to remain employed with the trucking company. It’s the method of offering a small sum of money in each payroll as reimbursement for the CDL training tuition. It’s not a bad deal if a) you could afford to pay for CDL training upfront; b) the cap on reimbursement is not less than you paid for your training; and c) you work for the trucking company long enough to recoup the entire amount of training tuition.  At the average reimbursement rate of $25 per week, it can take quite a while to be reimbursed in full.

Why Did Larger Companies Close Free Truck Driving Schools?

Schneider is one of the largest, most recognizable names in trucking.  Even today, people still search Google for terms such as Schneider truck driving schools.  What they'll find is that Schneider no longer has its own schools, but rather refers folks to independent truck driving schools. 

You see, it costs thousands of dollars to properly train a new truck driver. When that's not the main focus of your company, sometimes it just doesn't make sense.  Companies such as Schneider who used to offer free CDL training decided it was more beneficial focus on the core business objective of hauling freight.  Training truck drivers is a different animal and it's for this reason companies like Driver Solutions exist.  We're able to provide well-trained, qualified CDL drivers to larger companies while allowing them to focus on other things.

CDL Training Options Today

While you still may find some companies touting free CDL training today, you will find most of the reputable ones offer a company-sponsored program.  The company-sponsored program is all about finding a job opportunity for the student with a trucking company that's willing to cover the upfront tuition costs of training.  The student must make a commitment to drive with that company for a specified period of time in order to pay back the training costs invested by the company. 

It's a great way for the student to get quality training without having to come up with thousands of dollars, while the trucking companies know they're getting qualified drivers.  For more information on how this works, check out the Driver Solutions program.