Short duration or fast track programs are a great option for these types of individuals. They are basically a refresher course and highlight safety, vehicle operation, rules and regulations and also provide a decent amount of hands-on training behind the wheel for those with some prior experience.
It is important to realize that each state is responsible for setting regulations or requirements for trucking schools offering CDL training. Depending on the state the school may be mandated to provide a set number of classroom hours as well as a set number of hours for actual driver experience and training in a rig. For some states there are no set standards and the schools are allowed to set their own contact hours both in the class and in the truck.
Short term or fast track programs in these states are popular with students because they tend to look really good at first glance. However, if you stop and consider the responsibility and the skills needed to safely and effectively handle a truck and trailer, you may start to see areas of concern if you are completely new to being behind the wheel of a big rig.
For purposes of evaluating what is good and bad about these shorter programs in the states where they are possible let’s consider the student is a new driver with no previous truck driving experience. The same arguments will not apply to an experienced driver that is re-entering the trucking industry that is renewing his or her CDL after a few years out of the profession.
Most of the 7 to 20 day classes are very intense and have you working longer days. Initially this will include mostly classroom work but within a day or two expect to be outside working on and around the trucks and trailers. If you are a high energy person that loves intensive training this is a great environment for learning. For those that need a lot of breaks, find a bunch of information at one time an overload and get stressed in time pressure types of trainings this may not be the best setting.
Having the knowledge and experience close together is great for those that are both visual and kinesthetic learners. Visual learners learn by seeing in the classroom through videos, demonstrations and written material. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing such as working on the truck, getting behind the wheel and using driving simulator programs in the classroom.
Another good thing about these programs is you are away from home and family and out of work for a shorter period of time than the longer 3 to 12 week programs. For people that have to live away from home or commute to the school this can be an important factor.
The pace of the training in these classes is fast and those that fall behind may not have the ability to catch-up with the rest of the class. There may be a higher failure or drop-out rate as people get frustrated with the pace, but this is really a personal issue and not a general statement of the training.
For individuals that take a bit more practice to get the hang of a new skill the limited time behind the wheel with the instructor may leave them less confident and secure in actually managing the truck. Often people struggle with backing up, understanding all safety issues and generally having experience in driving in a variety of traffic, road and weather conditions.
Surprisingly the cost of these programs may not be much less than the longer duration programs that provide you with more real world driving experience with a qualified instructor. Some freight companies tend to prefer new drivers with the longer duration classes simply because they have more experience and are generally a higher insurance risk to the motor carrier company. This can, in the short term, decrease your chances of getting hired.
It is always a good idea to call around and talk to the human resource department of a few of the trucking companies you would consider working for. Find out what schools they prefer and why and also ask about schools they don’t hire from. You may be surprised at the information that the recruiter or staffing manager will provide as to their experience with different trucking schools and past graduates.