Confronting The CDL Driver Shortage

Training employees to become back-up drivers saves time and frustration.

At Earlbeck Gases & Technologies, we historically struggled when a CDL driver left us. It really didn’t seem to matter if he was off due to an extended illness, we fired him, or he left us for a change of venue. The result was always the same—we had an opening that we couldn’t fill quickly enough. Sometimes the opening would exist for months as we searched for the right person.

Five years ago, all of that changed. Bob Straw, our operations manager, came up with the idea that we should strive to only hire people for entry-level positions who were willing to be trained to become back-up drivers. We tried his idea and have had nothing but success.

Training Back-Up Drivers
Our program starts during the preliminary interview when we ask them if they would be willing to learn how to become a back-up driver. We go on to explain that we are not trying to turn them into full-time drivers—which we are not—and that they will be put into the driver’s seat on a rotating basis with the other back-up drivers. They are told that training will occur during routine business hours and they will be paid their customary wages while they achieve all of the necessary licenses. To further entice them, we offer a $500 one-time bonus once they pass all of the tests. If and when they serve as a back-up driver, they earn a driver’s wage.

It is not unusual for us to have more than one back-up driver for each full-time driver. We have not experienced any problems with back-up drivers leaving us with their new credentials to seek higher paying full-time drivers’ positions at other organizations. Maybe it is because they think of themselves as warehousemen, pumpers or countermen, and not drivers. When a full-time driver does leave, there is always someone on staff who is capable, fully trained and willing to take his position.

Program Benefits
Two side benefits of this program have become clear. The first is it that it highlights the people who are willing to be flexible in their job assignment; i.e., it weeds out those who have the “it is not my job” mentality. The second is that it presents an optional career path to a new hire. This seems to be of keen interest to the Gen-Xers.

It takes about 80 hours to run a trainee through our program. The cost of the CDL training program, including the bonus, is about $2,800. But the peace of mind that comes from knowing that our trucks will always be making deliveries? Priceless.

From New Employee to Back-Up Driver
Earlbeck Gases & Technologies follows the 12 steps below to train new employees to become qualified drivers:
  1. Determine if the employee is willing to drive a large truck.
  2. Send the employee to have his/her DOT physical and to obtain a DOT medical card.
  3. Have the employee study the Commercial Driver’s License Manual. They need to pass both the General Knowledge and the Pre-Trip Inspection portion of the test.
  4. Conduct one of the available entry-level driver training programs for CMV driver basics.
  5. Submit the employee’s application for their background clearance. (This can take 6 to 8 weeks.)
  6. Test the employee in-house with the Maryland Vehicle Administration (MVA) written sample test. We have copies of the two tests that cover all the questions that may be asked.
  7. When the employee can pass the written test at our facility, send them to the MVA to apply for their learner’s permit.
  8. Have the employee move the trucks around the yard to practice backing and parallel parking. The employee should also be practicing the Pre-Trip Inspection portion of the test. This is perhaps the most difficult portion of the training. It is where most people fail.
  9. When the employee is comfortable with handling the truck in the yard, road test him/her to make sure that we are comfortable with their ability.
  10. On successful completion of the road test, put him/her with a qualified driver for advanced on-the-job training. This training process includes proper cylinder handling techniques, documentation control, safety and driver development skills. This process should take several weeks.
  11. When both the qualified driver and the driver trainee feel that the trainee can pass both the driving portion and the pre-trip inspection, then the trainer will verify that the trainee is ready for his/her MVA test.
  12. Arrange for the trainee to be taken to the MVA for testing.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

Jim Earlbeck Meet the Author
Jim Earlbeck is president of Earlbeck Gases & Technologies, located in Baltimore, Maryland, and on the Web at