By John Hilton. Video and Images by Amy Spangler. Originally published February 19, 2015 at 8:00 AM
With the shortage of drivers continuing to be a problem, trucking companies have tried sign-on bonuses, higher pay, publicity campaigns and referral programs, all to no avail. The American Trucking Associations estimates up to 30,000 trucking jobs remain unfilled.
S&H Express Inc. in York decided that desperate times called for drastic measures, so the company established its own on-site truck-driving school and began training drivers as a private school in April 2013.
The Shelly Truck Driving School was licensed by the state Department of Education in August and some drivers it trains end up at competing trucking firms. The decision was made to open the school to the public so students would qualify for state retraining grants for the $5,300 tuition.
“The school could have 100 students a week who go to other companies as far as I’m concerned,” said Steve Shellenberger, president and CEO of S&H Express. “We’re making, I think, a tremendous contribution to try and develop people for these jobs.”
So far, six drivers have completed the course since August, two of whom stayed with S&H Express. Five of the six received state funding through CareerLink. Shelly is publicizing the school through radio and other advertising, said Randall L. Byers, director of the school. Candidates only need the means to pay the $5,300 tuition and a desire to drive a truck.
Drivers who stay with S&H Express are offered a deal: If they pay $500 upfront and stay with the company for one year, paying $40 a week, the rest of the tuition is forgiven. They get the training essentially at half price.
“We have 20 trucks that sit here without drivers,” Shellenberger said.
In addition to being licensed by the Department of Education, Shelly must also be registered as a CDL testing site with the state Department of Transportation, a process that is nearly complete.
Scott Shenk, division chief for driver licensing at PennDOT, said he “is not aware of a trucking company that also has a (public driving) school” in the state. Eighty CDL testing organizations, which host 120 different sites, are registered with PennDOT.
Statewide, there are about 425,000 CDL holders, Shenk said.
The average driver in the Shellenberger Family of Companies — which includes S&H Express, S&H Transport, HF Campbell Transportation, Cassidy & Carroll Gross Transportation, Demarche Transportation and Landis Express — earns about $45,000 a year, he said. The company employs about 350 drivers across its businesses.
The Shelly school took delivery last week of a major addition to the truck driving curriculum, an $85,000 truck simulator. Akin to a sit-down video game, the simulator will help Shelly produce better drivers, Byers said.
“It will help in getting them quicker to the point where they’re ready to go out in the truck,” Byers said. “You can throw all kinds of road conditions at them. You can make it a rainy day, or you can make it a snowy day.”
Most importantly, the simulator gets trainees used to shifting the truck, which Byers calls the most difficult aspect of driving a big rig.
The Shelly course consists of 160 hours of training, including about one week in the classroom and three weeks behind the wheel. Having the simulator means students can practice driving without burning up diesel fuel and inflicting wear and tear on the trucks, Byers said.
“And if somebody crashes on the simulator, it doesn’t cost anybody’s insurance anything,” he added.
A two-day open house is planned March 6 and 7. The first day is for invited guests, and Shelly hopes to have Gov. Tom Wolf and state Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York County) in attendance. The second day is for the general public.
The Shelly curriculum is not a one-size-fits-all design, Byers said. The school’s four instructors want to start new sessions every two weeks and have new drivers prepared to hit the road on a rolling basis.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” Byers said. “We realize that not everybody who comes through our doors will be where we want them to be after 160 hours.”
Shellenberger envisions the trucking school becoming a separate, successful business for the company. For its first year of operation, the Shelly school trained drivers for its own use, as well as another company it contracted with, he added. He hopes to expand the classes to fill some of the driver shortage.
“It makes a lot more sense for a company to recruit a student, send them to us … and let us handle the training,” Shellenberger said.
The above article excerpt was originally featured in the Central Penn Business Journal on February 19th, 2015. The full article can be found at www.cpbj.com