In December, the Biden administration challenged trucking companies to step up their driver training efforts and create a registered apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The administration considered its 90-Day Trucking Apprenticeship Challenge, which was aimed at recruiting and retaining more drivers, a success. It resulted in 102 new apprenticeship programs, beating the administration’s goal of 90 programs in 90 days.
Karl’s Transport, a 135-truck carrier based out of Antigo, Wisconsin, was among those companies approved during the challenge. Tim Kordula, the administrator of the company’s commercial driver training school, spoke with FreightWaves about why his company took up the challenge, and his vision for the company’s new registered apprenticeship program.
FREIGHTWAVES: The Department of Labor has had a registered apprenticeship program in place for trucking companies and their drivers for several years. When did you join?
KORDULA: “It was right in the middle of the 90-day challenge, about mid-February. I submitted my application and immediately got a call back from Fastport [DOL’s intermediary for the program], we scheduled a conference in late February, and we were registered shortly after.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Why did Karl’s Transport decide to register?
KORDULA: “One of our biggest goals is to be able to train 18-20 year olds to drive in interstate commerce. We’ve got a fair amount of 18-20 year olds who come through that show a maturity level that is incredible, and they’re great, safe drivers. But as you know, the law right now says they can only drive within the state and only haul freight that stays within the state.
“So when the FMCSA’s safe driver apprenticeship pilot project came out, one of the requirements is that you have to be registered with the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship program. So getting into the FMCSA’s pilot program was sort of a catalyst for becoming a registered apprenticeship program with the Department of Labor.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Could you describe how the DOL program will work for Karl’s Transport?
KORDULA: “I’m with our driver training school, but our registered apprenticeship program is with our carrier division. So once a student driver gets past our school and gets their CDL, if they decide to stay with Karl’s Transport as a driver, that’s when they will become an apprentice for two years. It will be the same with the 18-20 years in the FMCSA safe driver program. We’ll get them through our training school, and then their apprenticeship program starts when they start driving with the carrier.”
FREIGHTWAVES: If students have already gone through weeks of training at your school, what is the benefit of spending another two years as a driver apprentice?
KORDULA: “I personally think it’s going to help change the whole realm of drivers out on the road. My passion is education, and I think this will make this industry much better. These guys are going to be recognized after two years as full-blown professional drivers with a certificate from the Department of Labor much like with apprentice plumbers or electricians.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What are the benefits to you as the carrier running the program?
KORDULA: “Because these drivers will technically be defined by the federal government as apprentices, it will limit our liability if they’re involved in an accident. That’s not to say we’re pushing crappy drivers onto the road, but we know that some new drivers are more at risk for getting into an accident because of lack of experience.
“We’re also going to be required to track and report to the Department of Labor their safety performance over the two years, which includes projecting what their wages are going to be, and how long they stay with the company, which is information that can be used to gauge the quality of truck driving as a profession, which I think will ultimately help with driver retention.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Karl’s Transport isn’t considered a mega-carrier, but you’re larger than many. Is it worth it for smaller carriers to start a registered program with the Department of Labor as well?
KORDULA: “A company with less than 20 trucks or so may not want to take on that responsibility of the additional training. It may mean having to add another training position. So there are potential costs involved if you’re a smaller company, but I don’t think it’s exorbitant given the benefits and in terms of driver retention.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Would you recommend the DOL program to other carriers?
KORDULA: “There are carriers out there that have less than stellar reputations — we don’t want to ever be one of those. That would be my selling point to a carrier thinking about this. I would tell them that by becoming part of an apprenticeship, you’re showing the initiative to keep your drivers up to date and trained and being known as a company that’s taking it the extra mile. It’s worth it.”
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