HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Tractor-trailer drivers are in demand, but before you can take the wheel of an 18-wheeler you must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Shippers’ Choice has been training truck drivers in Hampton Roads for nearly 30 years, and offers a course to prepare for the CDL test in four weeks.
But recent graduates of the 160-hour course say they’re not properly prepared.
“If I was to take it today, I don’t think I would pass it,” said Chris Mandel of Chesapeake. He just finished the course last week.
“They said I could get (the CDL) in four weeks. I was kind of in a hurry to get employment.”
Tuition varies with the type of license desired, but averages about $4,500. A Virginia Workforce grant covered Mandel’s training, and veterans can get VA benefits toward tuition.
Mandel says he doesn’t feel like he’s ready to hit the road.
“I need more driving. I’ve only been behind the wheel with the trailer one time for maybe about twenty minutes. There’s not enough vehicles and too many students, that’s the main problem,” Mandel said.
“That’s not so,” responded Shippers’ Choice Director Ed Henk.
Henk says the school has Shippers’ Choice has five locations in Virginia — Newport News, Suffolk, Chester, Charlottesville and Manassas. Mandel and another student 10 On Your Side spoke with who had similar complaints, were part of a class of six who had their training at Suffolk. Both agreed that the quality of the instruction was good, but felt as though they weren’t getting enough time behind the wheel.
Henk says the company is big enough so that every site has what it needs.
“I’ll bring a truck from Newport News or I’ll bring one from Chester or wherever. We have plenty of equipment,” he said.
The course teaches the three parts of the CDL test: the pre-trip inspection, backing the vehicle and driving it on the road. According to Henk, Mandel may be further ahead than he thinks.
“He’s ready for (the road part) without a doubt. He’s got good road numbers. He’s ready for backing test,” he said.
But both agree that Mandel needs work on the pre-trip inspection when you have to name and explain parts of the truck itself.
However, Henk says nearly three out of every four people who complete his course drive off with what they came for.
“About 73 percent of people overall company-wide that take the course and they obtain their CDL on either their first or second attempt at testing,” Henk said, but added, “some people get to the end of the course and their numbers aren’t good enough to pass.”
Henk says right now the DMV is backed up four to six weeks when it comes to time slots for his graduates to take the CDL test.
While graduates wait, they can get practice time at the school to maintain their skills.
Mandel says that stretches the equipment even further, but Henk disagrees and says he keeps class sizes to four or five students for every instructor.
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