Five Ways to Get a CDL
Left: What’s in your wallet? If there’s a CDL there, there’s probably some greenbacks to go with it!
You will have an advantage over the competition if you have a valid commercial driver’s license before you apply for any jobs in the oilfields. While the economy is booming in drilling hotspots like those in Texas or North Dakota, some employers are becoming a little pickier about who they hire as compared to a few years ago. In some towns or within certain companies, it is expected that worthy fracking job applicants have a valid CDL before applying for any jobs around a rig.
Why is this? Well, almost all equipment that has to be moved to and from a drilling operation requires transport by truck. From the heavy machinery that powers a rig to the vast amounts of sand, water, and chemicals needed to maintain a frac operation, trucks form the lifeline of the oilfield industry. Even if you’ll spend the majority of your working hours on a rig and away from the cab of a semi, employers want the flexibility of having CDL-equipped employees to help move goods and materials.
Take a look at the more common five ways to get a CDL below. Each method has its pros and cons – some methods cost more than others, while some methods take far more time than others. You have to pick the strategy for getting a CDL which suits your individual situation best. It helps to remember that once you have your CDL, you’ll have spent far less time studying for and getting it than the average college student takes to get a bachelor’s degree. And you won’t have the backbreaking debt to go with that degree, either.
Note: at the bottom of this page you can see an overview of the pros and cons for each of these avenues toward getting a CDL
- Private Truck Driving School – This is perhaps the best option for any aspiring commercial driver, especially someone seeking employment in the oil & gas industry. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive option (you knew there’d be a catch, didn’t you?) Private CDL schools can run from roughly $2,000 to $4,000 per student for the roughly six weeks it takes to complete the school. For most schools, this also includes a guarantee that the student will successfully pass the CDL tests in the state he or she resides in, and get a CDL. However, with the upfront cost comes freedom: once you have your CDL in hand as the result of successful completion of the school, you’re free to work wherever you want – including within the fracking industry.
- Train Through an OTR Company – This is the cheapest way to get a CDL for those who have never set foot inside a truck before: there is no cost. That is, if you can find a company willing to train you as a “newbie” driver. The largest freight moving companies: Schneider National, Swift Transport, Knight Transportation, Werner, and CR England have traditionally been the companies which will recruit new drivers and then offer CDL training. However, there is a big catch: you should expect to give up at least a year of your life to the over-the-road (OTR) company that agrees to hire and train you to get your CDL. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re a younger, single person who has no income and poor job prospects. You won’t see home much for that one year period – but then, you can pretty much forego paying rent, also. Some folks simply live in a truck for a year or two until they are no longer bound by their contract after getting a CDL. It’s an extreme step – but for some folks, it might be the only avenue available. The above mentioned companies don’t always hire and train new drivers at all times. Occasionally, a “freeze” on “newbie” driver training will be in force within a particular company if they are fully staffed, or during a slow economy. However, the OTR world is a very heavy turnover world. OTR companies are always on the lookout for new drivers, and if you have a fairly clean driving record and are drug free, some companies will train you. Visit the Fracking Jobs in-depth look at Schneider’s driver orientation from an experienced truck driver.
- Trade or Technical School – some communities offer vocational classes which can help unemployed folks gain marketable skills like truck driver training (and oilfield jobs training, for that matter) for a very low cost. These classes are usually offered within community college or adult education environments. In many cases, vocational CDL programs are less expensive than those offered at private CDL schools. Also, the training will generally be of a high quality as the instructors are expected to adhere to rigorous standards. Unlike OTR company based CDL training programs, a vocational environment (like a private CDL school) will train you on how to drive a truck for any company – not just the company that provides the training.
- Exploit Your Existing Knowledge – it’s not unusual for those who grow up on farms or ranches to have a great deal of hands-on experience with air-brake equipped machinery like heavy tractors or semis. Taking this knowledge and then combining it with the “book learning” required for a CDL test (such as pre-trip inspections) can save a person time and money. If you are one of those who feel that you only need to study the test details, you may be able to rent a tractor-trailer combination to refresh your driving skills with and then take the actual state-approved CDL test in.
- Military – if you’re still in high school or a recent graduate, you might consider joining the military to get valuable training for a wide range of marketable skills, of which truck driving is just one of these. Some companies prefer to hire military veterans as they possess discipline, teamwork skills, neatness, attention to detail, and a solid work ethic. You could do far worse as a recent high-school grad than joining the military and furthering your skills training while serving your country – without taking on loads of debt.
Here is an overview of the pros and cons of the five common ways to getting a CDL:
Pros: Offer greatest flexibility, can work with your schedule, usually the best instruction, can search online for reviews on individual schools, training is not company-specific
Cons: Usually the most expensive option, payment in full expected up front or at least by end of your CDL test, some private schools may not have the best training or equipment available so shopping around first is necessary
Pros: CDL training is free, will drive with a co-driver for a number of weeks after you get your CDL which is worthwhile for new drivers, will receive training from actual current or former drivers so “real world” advice will be dispensed
Cons: “Indentured” servitude – you won’t be free to leave the company that hires you for at least a year or you’ll have to pay for your training, inability to leave a company may sour your outlook on getting a CDL, if you leave – expect to be pursued by collection companies until you pay for the training you received
Pros: Usually less expensive than private CDL schools, in some cases free for those who are unemployed and can show financial need, quality training despite the low cost, instructors are held to high standards, training is not company-specific
Cons: Not available for all folks in all areas, you’ll have to do some research in your area to see if it’s available to you, you may not qualify for financial aid or for admittance
Pros: Parlay the knowledge you gained in a “hands on” environment, no need to spend money or time at a private or vocational school, already have “real world” training which is more valuable than classroom training
Cons: Book learning still required, esp. learning involving pre-trip inspections and rules and regulations
Pros: Serve your country while getting experience and training, training is available for a wide range of skills and possible civilian jobs – not just CDL training, monetary reimbursements for further education and recruitment bonuses
Cons: Not an option for older individuals or those with families, must sign up for several years, certainly not a “quick fix” solution, must make an overall life change