CALGARY, Alta. — All schools are not created equal, which holds true for truck driver training schools.
We have all heard stories of prospective truck drivers being quickly funneled through driver training schools and coming out on the other end with little to no actual skills behind the wheel. So what should someone look for if they are considering a career as a commercial driver?
Emmet Callaghan has been running CCA Truck Driver Training in Calgary since 1981, training Class 1 and 3 drivers from scratch, and those who have some experience and need to brush up on their skills.
Callaghan said it’s important for people looking to get their Class 1 or 3 licence that it takes time to both learn the skill of driving and to gain an entry level position with a carrier.
“I would recommend that a prospective student visit each school they are considering training at to check out the location of the school and its yard, and ask about the types of trucks and trailers the school has available to train on,” Callaghan advised. “Prospective students should ask training schools what percentage of their students are gaining employment in the industry after completing training with them.”
Callaghan said proper equipment and a variety of training programs are an important factor when trying to make a decision on which school to attend, and be cautious of any school that tries to sell you the shortest, cheapest program to get a Class 1 licence.
“Carriers are aware that there are many people out there seeking employment who took the minimum hours of training to get their Class 1,” said Callaghan. “However, for the most part these individuals do not make good entry level candidates, as the carrier would have to do a great deal of additional training in-house to ensure they are putting safe and competent drivers on the road, which adds to the cost of hiring a new driver.”
Callaghan pointed to CCA’s Advanced Transport Driver Operations Program, which provides 60 hours of behind-the-wheel training, as well as 41 hours of classroom courses covering all essential information for new drivers.
In Red Deer, Dwight McCulley has been running Bulldog Driver Training with his partner John Umpherson since March 20, but brings seven years of driver training experience while with Cameron Driver Education, which was in business for 39 years in Alberta.
Bulldog does a lot of work with oil field, First Nations, immigrants, and Hutterite communities, training drivers for Class 1, 3, 4, and 5 licences.
The school trains on 13- and 18-speed manual trucks, but also has an automatic in its fleet.
“We request that they learn to drive an 18-speed,” McCulley said. “Yes, the automatics are coming on strong now, but the thing is, we want them to go out and be able to drive (an 18-speed).”
Students do have the choice to take their final road test in the manual or automatic vehicle, and McCulley said some companies are now allowing perspective drivers to test in the automatic, partly because most trucks these days are automatic and they would be driving this type of transmission anyway, but also because it keeps costs down, as there is a $180 permit fee each time a driver takes a final driving test.
“All the big guys are all going with automatics,” McCulley said of trucking companies. “Maintenance-wise it’s way cheaper and they can put anybody behind the wheel.”
McCulley said training takes anywhere from 20 to 26 hours (plus a 10-hour in-class air brake endorsement), depending on how much experience the student brings to the table, and can often include ridding a seasoned driver of bad habits they have acquired over the years.
“Backing up, lane changes, and being aware of people around them,” McCulley said are some of the more common bad habits that he sees in experienced drivers. “When you’re driving a big rig, people in cars have no idea how it takes longer for that vehicle to stop…it’s a long unit. Our trailers are 53 feet long, you have tractor in front of that, that’s another 20 feet on top of that.”
Pre-trip inspections are another vital aspect of a driver’s job that gets overlooked at times.
“We really focus on that pre-trip,” McCulley said. “You’ve got to know what’s happening on that truck and do your walk-around every day and check all your stuff.”
McCulley echoed Callaghan’s sentiment that equipment is key to any good driver training school – is the equipment serviced, is it clean, and does the staff fully explain what is expected of the student.
He also cautioned against any school that tries to sell a student empty promises.
“We do not promise people something and not return,” McCulley said. “Our pass rate is 96% in our cars and trucks.”
McCulley said part of the reason for Bulldog’s high success rate is that they establish a contract with those who register for the program that they will be ready, fit and able to drive and not under the influence of any substances.
“We don’t say that we can get their Class 1 in 12 hours,” McCulley said, as jus the air brake class takes 10 hours. “No empty promises. We like to do a two-hour evaluation to see where you’re at and then we’ll sit with you.”
Though he admitted that price is always a consideration when determining which school to go through, Callaghan would caution against picking a school based on price alone.
“For most schools, the hourly rate runs between $100 and $135 an hour for truck time, so often the less expensive courses are just less time behind the wheel,” he said. “Ultimately, prospective students need to do some leg work and find out what they need to get from the training they are buying.”
Callaghan said he would also look to see if there will be any restrictions on your commercial licence indicating whether you tested on an automatic or manual transmission.
McCulley said there remains to be driver training schools that do not properly prepare drivers for a career behind the wheel, and they often come knocking on his door to complete their education, which ends up costing the student even more.
He also said business is good at the moment, with several people looking to get their Class 1 licence and head up to Northern Alberta for work.