"Free" CDL Training vs. Independent Trucking School
You've heard about free CDL training programs. These are company-paid training programs. However, there's no such thing as a free lunch—there are many tradeoffs with this as you decide on a CDL training program.
The Paid CDL Training Model
A paid CDL training program is run by and paid for by trucking companies or other businesses with a large fleet of commercial vehicles. Companies with programs like these use them as a way of hiring: you get through your education and working for them ASAP, so you don't need to look for a job after you finish training.
You'll learn how to operate commercial trucks, handle materials the company transports, and understand the laws of the road. Whether you get paid for training depends on the program.
After training, you must drive for the company fleet for a certain time before leaving without any financial penalties. Never choose a paid CDL program until you look at the contract details carefully.
When "Free" CDL Training Isn't Really Free: Questions to Ask Your CDL Training Program
A paid CDL training program is great for becoming a truck driver and landing your first job quickly, but considering the downsides could help you avoid a nightmare situation down the road. Ask your training program these crucial questions.
What Is the CDL Training Experience Like?
Sometimes the "free" training time is stark and unpleasant. Most company-sponsored CDL programs require staying in a hotel away from your home for a few weeks, which could inconvenience your family.
Is There a Contracted Tenure After Earning the CDL? How Long?
Many big carriers lock you into a contract after you obtain your CDL, which may limit your earning potential or the ability to change locations. Most companies contract you for a year or two, and there can be penalties for ending your contract early.
What Type of Equipment Does the Company Use?
Some companies only train you to use their equipment, which means you may only be able to drive the vehicles the company uses. For instance, if the company strictly uses automatic transmission vehicles, you may not be able to drive a manual transmission one—which could hurt your future job search unless you get that training elsewhere. An independent school generally allows you to experience various trucks and features.
What Is the Company Culture Like?
If you start working for a company after training and realize it's not the right fit, you may not walk away without suffering penalties like paying back training costs or a black mark on your work history.
What Does the Company Pay New Drivers?
Depending on the company, you may notice low pay for newly minted drivers. In addition to offering lower pay for new drivers, some reclaim the cost of the free program by deducting money from your paychecks too.
Are There Upfront Training Costs?
Training could come with more out-of-pocket costs than you thought. Most require a deposit to secure your spot. You may also have to pay for your meals and lodging. While some pay for you to travel to the training location, you may also have to arrange for your transport to them.
Alternatives to Company-Paid CDL Training Programs and Paying for Trucking School
Independent schools are an excellent alternative to company-paid CDL training programs. Not only are you usually trained on a wider variety of vehicles, as mentioned above, but you could also still find yourself walking away with little to no debt.
Many independent schools partner with companies to help with tuition reimbursement or offer their own financial aid, and if you come from a military background, the costs could be even less.
Many carriers offer tuition reimbursement to pay off your education if you work for them for a certain length of time. Along with many others, these carriers provide tuition reimbursement:
Apply for local scholarships and grants near you or provided by your training program. For example, Southwest Truck Driver Training offers students financial assistance like state grants and in-house financing.
Military or Servicemember Benefits
Your military education benefits could help pay for a CDL program, but not always. The following benefits and programs may help cover your training cost:
- GI Bill®: Some truck driving training schools may provide financial aid to GI-eligible students. But how much financial aid you receive depends on your eligibility, time served, and other criteria.
- Military Tuition Assistance Program (TA): TA covers a community college trucking program accredited by the U.S. Department of Education, but how much you receive depends on your military branch.
- Veteran's Educational Assistance Program (VEAP): VEAP covers non-college degree programs and any training fees, such as an independent trucking school's tuition.
- Chapter 35 Benefits for Survivors and Dependents: Part of the GI Bill, Chapter 35 is an education benefit for a Veteran's surviving dependents (spouse or child).
- National Call to Service Program: If you served in certain military specialties, you could earn tuition reimbursement through this GI Bill-alternative education benefit.
Free CDL training isn't always free. But with an independent program, you could find a world of truck driving employment possibilities open to you.