When you first go to get your CDL license, you will quickly have some decisions that can make or break your career.
You can decide to pay for everything out-of-pocket, or you have the option of seeking a paid CDL training program. Yes, you can get paid for your CDL training, but there are conditions that need to be met.
First things first, to get your driving career started you must have some type of CDL training in order to work for a carrier in the trucking industry.
If you’re trying to get your commercial drivers license, you will need some form of professional training.
The training may be paid for with a grant or scholarship, but in most cases, you’ll pay for your training out-of-pocket. Free training programs are available, but these programs come with their own commitment (read more in the next section).
Obtaining your CDL will require the following:
Regular driver’s license
18 years old in most states*
Be 21+ to drive across state lines or haul hazardous material
2 years driving experience (depending on the state)
US citizen or allowed to work in the US legally
Pass a DOT medical exam
Pass a DOT drug test
Undergo a background check
Verifiable employment for the past three years (depending on the sponsor)
No DUI/DWI convictions for 5+ years
No moving violations in the last 3 years
If you’re working with a company that offers paid CDL training, the company will have their own requirements. Most companies will require that you be 21 or older, depending on the program being offered.
You will train and then need to pass a test.
The test will depend on the CDL license you’re trying to obtain, but the tests will include vehicle inspection, basic controls and on-the-road driving exam.
If you opt to pay all of the expenses out-of-pocket, you’ll find that you have total freedom over the career route you choose. There’s no need to work with a company for a specified period of time, and there are no contracts holding you back.
You gain your freedom to work anywhere that you want once you have your license.
There are no commitments to work for the company, so you can hop from one trucking company to the next to find one that pays the most or offers the best benefits. You won’t be paid during your training, nor will you have a guaranteed position waiting for you when you pass your CDL exam.
*You may be 18 years old and receive a CDL, but you will not be able to drive across state lines or drive a commercial motor vehicle that contains hazardous material
Are These Programs Really Free?
Yes and no. Each program is different. Some have fees, and others do not. The normal program will be a company-sponsored CDL. When you go this route, the keyword here is: sponsored.
You’ll be working with a major trucking company that needs workers to man their rigs.
And the company is willing to invest in you.
This is an investment, and the company does not benefit if they train you for free and then you go to a competitor. No, that’s not in the best interest of the company.
The company may require:
You to work for the company upon graduation for a specific period of time. These companies will often reimburse you for any paid training you received.
You work for the company for a specified period of time, and the company will deduct money from your paycheck every week until you’ve paid the company back for the training.
So, you might not be paying for the training upfront, or you may, but in the end, you have to work for the company to pay off your debt in some fashion. If you do receive your CDL and break your contract with the company, you’ll have to repay the money the company spent on your tuition.
You do receive paid training, so you’ll make money, but you’ll also be making a commitment to work for the company.
The definition of free is used loosely, but there are a lot of benefits to working with these programs, too.
Training is “free”
You’ll receive a paycheck
Training is fast
You don’t need any prior experience
You’re guaranteed employment
Sign-on bonuses are available
Benefits are great
There’s a lot of competition
Work with a trainer during training
You’re receiving a paycheck, and training is very fast-paced. There’s no need for experience, and you’re guaranteed employment. There’s no need to look for a job, and you can start making very good money within a year of graduating.
You may start out earning $45,000 to $75,000.
Trucking is ultra-competitive, and there is a shortage of truckers, so after your commitment, you can go from one trucking company to the next if you wish. Competition is fierce, and there are also sign-on bonuses and great benefits being offered.
You have to work in a very fast-paced environment
Training is intense and can be 10 to 15 hours per day
Spend weeks away from home during training
You must work for the sponsoring company
Stuck in a commitment with the company
You may have to pay for other expenses
Tuition expenses will be covered, but you may have to pay for your lodging and other expenses while you train. If the training center is a commute, this can be a very expensive form of training.
If the company sponsoring your training pays less than competitors or you don’t like the work environment, you’re essentially “stuck” working for the company. You signed an ironclad contract, and you can be sure that if the contract is broken, you will have to reimburse the company for your tuition.
Training is day and night, and it can be a very intense time for someone with a family. Don’t expect much down time or time with the kids while training.
How to Choose the Best Paid CDL Training Program
You’ve decided on paid CDL training, but now you have a lot of choices to make. Since the training is free, you don’t have to consider costs as heavily as you normally would. But some training programs are better than others.
A few of the things that you’ll want to consider are:
Contract length. How long will you be required to work for the company after you’ve graduated? You’re entering into a contract, and if you break the contract, the sponsor will want to be repaid. The length of a standard contract is 1-year, but we’ve seen contract lengths range from 8 months to 2 years.
Equipment. Some schools offer new equipment, so you’ll be learning on trucks with all of the latest safety features. These schools are a great option because they allow you to stay safer during your training and practice on trucks that have all of the bells and whistles.
Fees. You will find that some schools will pay for some, but not all, fees. Since a school may be a state or two over from your home state, you may have to pay for your own boarding. You need to know what the school offers and what will be reimbursed or paid on your behalf. A lot of companies will pay for room and board and even meals, but others will not cover this expense.
Location. Even some of the world’s billion-dollar trucking companies only have school locations in a handful of states. You should consider the location of the school if you have family or other commitments where you can’t just up and move across the country for your training.
Reviews. You read reviews for products and services, and you should also be reading reviews for training programs in your area. Reviews will let you know the ins and outs of training programs and what students liked and disliked about these programs, too. If a CDL program has all bad reviews, you may want to consider going elsewhere.
Sizes. The class size will matter. Some schools have smaller class sizes which allows for more hands-on and one-on-one learning. The size of the school will also dictate how many students are in the truck learning at the same time. If there are 2 students per truck, you’ll have ample time to operate the vehicle. If there are six students, you will receive much less hands-on experience.
Success rate. Call the school and ask about the success rate for their students. Some people will enter a program and leave. You need to consider this if the success rate is low.
Pay is another consideration because you’ll be getting paid for your training. You may be paid weekly to train, and you’ll also want to know what the going rate is for your first year of work with the trucking company.
Perhaps after the deduction of your tuition you’ll be earning $20,000 a year. In this case, it may be more beneficial to find financing for your CDL and pay it back on your own terms since you will not be locked into a contract with a sponsor.
Companies That Offer Paid CDL Training
Companies that offer paid CDL are increasing in number as the trucker “drought” continues. The industry is in need of truckers, and major trucking companies are willing to pay you to enter the field.
There are a lot of companies that are offering paid CDL training:
Carter Express. Low accident ratios, 100% paid tuition.
CRE England. Operates five driving schools nationwide and has over 5,600 drivers.
CRST. Weekly CDL classes and 8-month contract obligation.
Celadon. Guaranteed job placement, all tuition, boarding and food costs covered.
Driver Solutions. Operates a large-school schooling outfit, with over 20,000 student drivers receiving their CDL. No down payments, fees or credit checks. Contracts with major trucking companies that pay for your training on a contract basis.
FFE Transport. FFE Transport is another Texas company that requires 100% free training if you remain with the company for one year after graduating.
Jim Palmer. Real-world experience and $10,000 longevity bonus available.
KnightTransportation. Trucks 2 years old or less; paid $300/week while training.
Maverick. Offers a fully sponsored driving school in Arkansas and offers full tuition reimbursement options.
PAM. “Just in time” freight and busy work environment.
PRIME. Operates in 48 states; no-cost training if you remain a driver for a full year.
Raider Express. A small, family-owned operation that has late-model equipment, but offers 100% free CDL training in Ft. Worth, Texas with no contract required.
Roehl. Great home time options; winner of “Carrier of the Year” awards.
Stevens Driving Academy. Training for all potential Stevens Transport drivers, offering full financing and a one-year contract to cover tuition.
SWIFT. Large-scale trucking company, works with major retailers and operates in 27 states.
TMC. Two students work on a truck at a time, meals included and new custom equipment.
USA Truck. Driving school handled through Driver Solutions.
Wil-Trans. Small class size, newer equipment and a lot of hands-on training.
XPO Logistics. Fully paid tuition with a 1-year commitment, and annual income for student drivers is $37,800.
YRC Freight. 100% free school for Chicago residents and also driver development programs.
This list is a great starting point, but if there’s a company in your area that offers trucking, make sure to check if they offer any training options. A lot of trucking companies are opening their own CDL training programs to keep up with competitors that are paying to attract new talent.