By Chris Hadfield
Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence
The workforce shortage of quality trained CDL drivers is at a critical level and rising. This isn’t breaking news. The workforce shortage is here and present. The Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) Federal legislation coming in 2020 compounds the issue of developing the workforce, but also presents new opportunities.
Project and Partnership Overview:
The Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA, a member driven organization) and the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence (TCOE, a consortium of colleges, high schools, and industry) met in the fall of 2017 at a summit of carriers and educators to discuss the issues, learn about the on-the-ground situation, develop relationships, explore partnerships, and begin to think about solutions.
The energy and enthusiasm from that summit continued and eventually a Driver Training & Recruitment (DTR) Committee formed with membership from both education and industry. Within that committee, there are several teams: Image, Government/Regulatory, Insurance, and Content/Curriculum. The content/curriculum team met, wrote a grant, and have started a collaborative project.
Current State of Project:
In fall 2018, the curriculum project started by collaboratively identifying a curriculum designer that would lead the team. The TCOE commissioned Alexandria Technical and Community College (a partner of the center) to be the subject matter expert on design and content. They in turn are gathering input from many CDL instructors and industry trainers in Minnesota and beyond to create a “facilitator and implementation manual” that has content ready to deploy. When finished, a school or carrier can take the materials, implement them, and not only be prepared with the tools to create an excellent program, but will be able to be compliant with the ELDT standards and Federal program registration.
More than Basic ELDT Compliance:
The facilitator and implementation manual is more than just a tool to help schools become compliant with ELDT, it is a holistic package that helps schools and their carrier partners reach excellence in program design and partnerships. It contains information and resources on attracting students through outreach and marketing, helping students discover financial aid resources that are uncommon, creating partnerships with local carriers, developing apprenticeships/internships/job shadowing, and more. ELDT is now considered the minimum bar. Carriers are different and need the flexibility to train to their specific conditions. This “ELDT-Plus” helps schools and carriers truly meet the needs of the workforce.
Connection to the Larger Picture and the DTR Committee
The work of the curriculum project cannot be successfully implemented unless it is coordinated with the work of the DTR committee and the challenges that carriers face every day. Motor carriers deal with regulatory, insurance, logistical, and safety issues every day. This project is not just another curriculum project, rather it is a large and encompassing project to change the entire landscape within education and industry. Excellence is the mark and it is crucial that all areas that affect the workforce are addressed through collaboration and careful coordination.
Carrier differences necessitate the need for flexibility in training to specific conditions. This “ELDT-Plus” facilitator and implementation manual truly helps schools meet the needs of their carrier partners by providing a foundational knowledge base along with modules above the ELDT minimum that encompass those differences. This is why the DTRs involvement in this project is vital to capture the needs of different types of carriers.
Future Stages of the Project:
We have recently identified that after a person is interested in pursuing a career and school/training, one of the largest challenges to program enrollment is successfully obtaining the CDL permit. A future stage of the project is to develop a free, open-source, online CDL practice test. This online practice test platform needs funding to be more than just a test with answers. It needs to be interactive, engaging, and supportive both during and after logging in.
Most children unintentionally make decisions about careers as early as elementary school. Choices and stereotypes about careers and the decisions that are made are further refined in the middle and high school ages. The project and school enrollment will stand still if positive, hands-on, interactive, and industry/education collaborative outreach is not done. We are planning on using multiple methods of engagement, such as:
- Company open houses through the Experience Trucking project;
- Collaborative middle and high school presentations;
- Collaborative outreach using hands-on activities at career fairs using the Transportation Careers Exploration trailer, booths, etc.;
- Marketing campaigns and outreach designed to highlight careers in trucking in a positive light and be geared towards younger audiences, their peer audiences, and career-decision influencers;
- Internships, apprenticeships, job shadows, and ride-alongs;
- Partnering with and utilizing national efforts.
Blending the work of the Driver Training & Recruitment Committee work is essential. A positive image, a safe and decent work environment, an insurance industry that supports the workforce, and public policy that works are all needed to be in place in order for the system to meet the challenges and needs of the workforce.
Implementation and Upcoming Challenges:
While we do not know the exact details of Federal program registration, we do know that it will be a challenge for all schools. The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence will be working with the industry partners of the Minnesota Trucking Association to enhance advisory committees of CDL programs and through other methods of industry/education partnerships will be taking on this challenge.
When the project is ready for implementation, the post-secondary schools that have CDL programs will be implementing components of the project as they see fit. Industry partners of each school will be there to help. Secondary school implementation and career outreach will be the real challenge.
Industry partners of the Minnesota Trucking Association will be working with the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence to communicate and partner with their local school districts to review the resources, identify if it makes sense for the school to adopt, and creating additional industry/education partnerships to ensure that they succeed and continue.
We anticipate that many high schools will be hesitant to implement a program. But through a collaboration of industry and education, we hope to have the outreach and communication in place to help the adoption and acceptance at the secondary level accelerate.
The solutions are the same as the challenge. Collaboration and funding.