Ben Crawford is in the driver’s seat at Penn Commercial. He’s lead instructor for the school’s recently launched CDL Training program, a six-week course that readies students to hit the road with a Class A commercial vehicle driver’s license.
“I’ve been driving tractor-trailers since 1992,” Crawford says. He started at Sears, driving their vehicles from a distribution center in Pittsburgh to stores and warehouses to deliver a product. He went on to Ethan Allen, doing runs from New Stanton to Dulles, VA, and back, and then to Best Buy. Before he started teaching, Crawford drove tri-axles (dump trucks) for Rischitelli Brothers in Charleroi, where he gained experience driving on leased roads – big business in Pennsylvania and something he teaches students at Penn.
Leased roads lead to the remote gas and oil sites in Pennsylvania, and drivers need to learn a new skill set to maneuver vehicles on them. “To get to these oil sites, they have to cut steep leased roads to get to the pass,” Crawford explains. “Those can be very treacherous, and there are no guard rails. The driving is completely different [than over-the-road driving]. They have to shift faster, be a little safer. They’re going up a mountain on gravel.”
Before students can drive anywhere, they need to obtain their driving permits. “Usually, the first week we go through the whole CDL Class A book, which consists of a general knowledge test, a tanker test, air brakes and combination,” Crawford says. “Once they’re at a point where I think they’re ready, we send them to the DMV and they test. If they pass all four tests, they then get their permit and they’re ready to go out on the road.”
“We run four students per instructor, and as a start-up, we started with four.” Every two weeks, another set of four students starts the program; classes run continuously. Crawford has been teaching for about 12 years, but he says the training at Penn is different. Most schools have a four-week program. “We’re giving them an extra two weeks of driving, which really helps them develop into better drivers.” It also makes them more valuable to employers.
Many trucking companies – because there’s a shortage of CDL drivers – are willing to pay for students’ training. Students pay up-front, but they’re reimbursed by their new employer. “We actually will get guys financed to come to this school with no out-of-pocket expense,” Crawford says. “You have to work for that company for one year, and you’re going to make close to $60,000-$70,000 a year. Where does that happen in the world?”
According to a 2015 analysis by the American Trucking Associations, the trucking industry will need to hire 890,000 new drivers during the next decade to keep up with many drivers retiring and industry growth. Crawford agrees. “The demand for trucking right now is going to get so hard to find drivers because all these companies like Amazon are going to have to have merchandise moved across the country.” Many of the local drivers are getting into the gas and oil field.” If you get a CDL license and you can’t find a job, then you don’t want to work.”
Since Crawford has been in the field, it has changed – for the better. “The misconception of driving is that you’re going over the road like a gypsy. That’s your choice. You can do that if you want to,” Crawford says. “There are companies like Old Dominion, Pitt Ohio, ECM, SD, New England Motor Freight, and you go into work at 8 in the morning and you drive an 8- or a 10-hour day to, say, Ohio and back, and you come home.” That was once a luxury in the business.
The trucking industry is attracting career changers. “I have a nurse that’s come to our program. I’ve had an X-ray technician,” Crawford says. “He ended up going to the company [with the portable X-ray machines] as the driver and the tech, and he was paid almost double.” Women are also turning to the male-dominated trade. “A lot of companies love to have women come to work,” he says. “They find they’re a lot easier on the equipment, and they drive much less aggressively.”
Crawford says the Penn CDL Training program is offering new hope for the unemployed. “I’ve had coal miners that were making a lot of money that lost their jobs,” he says. They earned their CDL licenses and changed their lives. “To be able to see guys come in here who have lost their homes or don’t have anything and to get them through a six-week program and help them get jobs making $70,000 has become has been more rewarding to me than anything I could ever have picked as a job.”
The potential is there for drivers who want to work. “Most of the guys the first year out of school are making close to $70,000-$80,000 a year,” Crawford says. “I do have guys making well over $100,000 the first year. It’s unbelievable for a six-week program to get out of school and make that kind of money.”
If this sounds good to you, consider getting your CDL license. Penn Commercial’s CDL training program provides the classroom and hands-on practical driving experience you need to test for the Pennsylvania Commercial Class A Driver’s License with air brakes and tanker endorsement. Your comprehensive training will teach you to:
- Execute required vehicle maneuvers
- Perform a 6-point air brake test and pretest inspection on a commercial vehicle
- Understand and complete a log book
- Navigate intrastate and interstate highways by reading a roadmap
- Comprehend the rules and regulations of driving a commercial vehicle in Pennsylvania
For more information or to register for classes, contact Penn Commercial today.