Scholarships for CDL training part of Wisconsin proposal


Wisconsin lawmakers are taking steps to address supply chain issues in their state by attracting more applicants for commercial driver licenses through CDL training.

In one bill presented on February 1AB941, Republican lawmakers are asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to establish three programs intended to increase the number of residents with CDLs and reward companies for hiring and retaining new drivers.

The first proposed program, the Commercial Driver Scholarship Program, would provide scholarships to people who enroll in driving lessons. The CDL training grant would cover 50% of the student’s fees for commercial vehicle driving lessons. Courses can be taken at a technical college or at a WIDOT approved driving school.

Additionally, through the Employer Training Grant Program, WIDOT would provide grants to companies that provide training leading to an employee obtaining a CDL. Grants will cover 50% of the cost of training up to a maximum of $3,000.00.

Rep. Treig E. Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, co-author of the bill, called the bill an important step for a supply chain seeking to recover from an ongoing pandemic.

“This bill is intended to provide a springboard to help improve these staggering statistics and inspire people to get a CDL. This essential legislation is needed now, not a year from now,” Pronschinske told fellow lawmakers during a Feb. 8 hearing. “As you can see across the country, including here in Madison, there have been shortages of everything from chicken to car parts. As we attempt to undo the damage of COVID-19 and its aftermath on our society, an essential step is to get drivers back on the road.

As conversations about supply chain issues and perceived driver shortages continue to dominate the headlines, more states are turning to programs designed to put drivers behind the wheel of commercial vehicles. . Neal Kedzie, president of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, said a bill like this could help address longstanding issues within the industry.

“This is important because it solves a problem that we in the trucking industry have understood for some time, which is the need for additional drivers. We have had issues trying to recruit younger drivers and there have been a number of drivers who have retired from the industry in recent years – COVID has helped to exacerbate this issue,” Kedzie said. “It’s both the inbound side and the outbound side where we need to increase those numbers and get a reliable source of drivers for the future.”

While the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sees good news in CDL training legislation, it is far from perfect.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said programs like the ones on offer need expectations and limits placed on participating schools and motor carriers to help ensure student success.

“These programs always seem good and helpful,” he said, “but what they do every time is subsidize the model of the big carriers who hire these people and make them work until they die. for low pay until they get fed up and leave the company or even the industry.

Pugh argues that more needs to be done to ensure that carriers hold their end of the bargain when it comes to training, hiring and retaining qualified drivers.

“These carrier grants should have a retention clause so that the carrier who hires and trains them must retain them for at least 18 months or before they are eligible for the 50% grant up to $3,000” , Pugh said. “Anything that isn’t that is just corporate welfare. The driver shortage is an easy drum to beat when you don’t want to tackle the real retention problem.

The Commercial Driver Recruitment Subsidy Program, the third program in the proposed CDL training bill, aims to combat driver retention. The program would provide a $500 grant to new drivers who have recently obtained a CDL and have maintained employment driving a commercial vehicle for at least one year. This assistance will also be extended to companies that employ a new CDL holder for one year.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, turnover rates for large long-haul carriers are over 90% and around 72% for smaller carriers. Additionally, the average length of time a new driver stays in the industry is six months. What may seem like a small reward for a simple task can actually help solve the larger problem of driver retention in the trucking industry.

However, with many carriers offering hefty signing bonuses, it’s fair to wonder if $500 is enough to help drivers resist the lure of a bigger paycheck and move on to another employer. While driver retention is an important issue, Kedzie said it’s not the bill’s primary focus.

“I don’t necessarily know if $500 is enough to entice drivers to stay with a carrier or stay in the industry. But you have to look at what the legislation offers,” Kedzie said. “It helps reduce the cost of CDLs for new drivers. It seeks to help offset some of the cost to carriers of hiring and training these drivers. I think anything we can do to help sweeten the pot certainly doesn’t hurt. Whether it’s scholarships – as this law offers to new CDLS – or subsidies for drivers and employers. I think that’s a positive thing, and I think you add all that together, it helps move the needle in the right direction.

For those outside of the industry, it can be easy to take a “hurry up and fix it” approach to today’s supply chain issues. Kedzie says this type of legislation takes a longer-term approach to solving an ultimately larger problem.

“The legislation is not designed as an immediate solution,” he said. “I think it’s really more about the long term and making sure we have a steady flow of drivers to meet consumer demands.” LL

More Wisconsin news is available here.

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