Driver training should come with no strings attached

One of the biggest complaints veteran and prospective drivers alike voice is that their chosen profession affords them little respect.

Well, it's going to take years of hard work by many dedicated people before all the negative stereotypes of truck drivers are removed once and for all from the public eye.

Given how much people like to cling to their prejudices, in the meantime trucking companies should be willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to show respect for their most valuable employees -- drivers.

One way fleet managers can start is by helping eradicate the abysmal practice of advertising as "free" driver training that is anything but.

In many cases, such "free" training comes at a price -- either a monetary obligation or even more noxious, a requirement that students commit to work for a carrier exclusively for one or more years.

That's what's called indentured servitude. It's an old but still loathsome practice that hardly engenders respect for employees.

Besides, offering training with strings attached is a pretty stupid way of tackling the driver shortage. It should do wonders for reducing the driver-churn rate at fleets that stomach this kind of employee abuse.

Just how fast do you think these drivers will peel out for their next job once their training obligation is fulfilled? My guess is they'll move so quick no one will even see their dust.

The Commercial Vehicle Training Assn. (CVTA), the Assn. of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (APFTDS), and the Professional Truck Driver Institute of America (PTDIA) are calling on fleets, training organizations, and schools to end the fraudulent advertising of free driver training.

"There is a very simple definition to the word 'free,'" says CVTA chairman R. Wade Murphree. "The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, defines 'free' as 'having no obligations (as to work) or commitments; not costing anything.'" Gee, that's what I thought it meant, too.

Murphree states his objection to the misuse of such a cherished word unequivocally. "The practice of some companies that advertise 'free' commercial driver training and then require the student to pay for part of the training, or stay with the carrier for a period of time after the training, is unethical and constitutes false advertising."

As he rightly points out, "it's unfortunate that some motor carriers and training organizations feel they must use this tactic to attract drivers."

According to Murphree, prospective students often arrive at "free" training seminars only to learn they must enter into a contract requiring the repayment of training costs, which may range from 1,500 to 5,000 bucks. The carriers can collect on these debts if the drivers don't stay with them for a period typically of one or two years.

"Many students who enter the trucking industry as drivers do so to improve themselves," Murphree asserts. "But when a driver leaves a carrier and must repay a training obligation, he or she often winds up being worse off."

And you can bet that won't leave these now qualified drivers with much of a taste for continuing a career behind the wheel.

"It's in the interest of the entire trucking industry to deal honestly with prospective students, and to advertise truthfully," contends PTDIA president Lana Batts.

She pointedly notes that carriers and training outfits that advertise in this manner would not meet the standards established for certification by PTDIA.

"We seriously question the ethics of companies that resort to fraud to hire drivers," says APFTDS president Don Hess. "We're calling on the trucking industry and organizations that train drivers to voluntarily refrain from these practices because they are untrue and indefensible."

Hess points out that all three associations are encouraging their members to report such false advertising to the office of the attorney general in whichever state the ads appear.

It's one thing to swim with the sharks. It's quite another to share a bed with rats. Indeed, the sooner this breed's exterminated, the better for drivers -- and for all in trucking.