Ann Arbor, MI-based LTL carrier Con-way Freight has graduated the 500th candidate from its array of driver-training schools. The program is provided at no cost to candidates, the carrier pointed out, and what’s more, students earn an income while learning their new profession.

Launched in March 2010, the driver-training program now operates in 84 cities across the U.S. The schools are conducted at the carrier’s service centers and provide both classroom and behind-the-wheel training so that graduates can obtain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and then join the ranks of the company’s 14,000 driver-sales representatives.

A key aspect of the 12-week program is that students work in paid part-time positions as dockworkers while attending class.

See video from Con-way on the driver training school

“We are both making an investment — the student in the time and energy they commit to the program, and the company in creating and administering the curriculum and training,” said Bob Petrancosta, Con-way Freight’s vp of safety, who started his career with the company as a driver 28 years ago.

“We each have skin in the game,” he continued. “Safety is priority number one at Con-way Freight and through this program, we know we are putting to work highly trained professional drivers whose foremost commitment is to provide our customers with the safest possible service.”

The carrier operates its driving schools as regional and local needs dictate. Programs at each service center are conducted using Con-way equipment and veteran senior drivers as instructors.

Classroom and field study covers federal and state highway laws, regulatory policy, safety compliance, proper commercial vehicle safety inspection and defensive driving skills.

On top of 80 hours of classroom study, students spend 160 supervised hours behind the wheel with a driver-trainer, piloting trucks first around training courses on company property and later in regular operating conditions over hills, on freeways and in local urban traffic.

Once students complete the program, graduate and pass their state license exam, they are promoted to full-time drivers and given an assignment.

In the first year, Con-way driving school graduates can expect to earn on average between $45,000 and $55,000, depending on work assignment, plus access to a comprehensive benefits package and a profit-sharing program.

To date, the program boasts a 90% retention rate.

Con-way Freight said it started up its own schools in response to the persistent industry shortage of qualified drivers — which it fully expects to worsen.

According to the carrier, studies project the trucking industry will face a shortage of 135,000 drivers by the end of 2012’s first quarter. Yet even with high unemployment, driving jobs had been going unfilled for weeks at a time.

“We needed qualified drivers, and with the lack of supply in the market, we decided to create a program where, in essence, we could grow our own,” explained Petrancosta. “By providing comprehensive training combined with a way to earn a wage while learning, we made it more attractive for people to consider this as a profession. This is the right program at the right time and the response has been terrific.”

For information on future driving school classes, call 734-757-1294 or go to the “Careers” page on Con-way’s website at http://www.con-way.com/en/careers/driver-careers/.