Driver Finishing Programs

Here’s more of JobMonkey’s interview with Bill Roberts, Director of Transportation at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) in Rosemount, Minnesota.

Are there internships available for these careers and what is the best way to get one?

Roberts: There are no formal internships, but for drivers, most companies have on-the-job training for their new employees, and some companies have Driver Finishing Programs for truck driving school graduates. These are paid positions where the new employee is assigned the “second seat” behind an experienced driver for a period of up to a few months. After this time, the driver is assigned his or her own vehicle as a solo driver. The best way to get an internship is to be thoroughly trained and to interview in a professional manner.

What are some tips on how to find jobs in the trucking industry?

Roberts: The best way to find a truck driver job in this industry is to enlist the assistance of someone that you know who is already employed in the business. If that is not possible, it is best to receive the most comprehensive professional training possible – knowing how to drive a wide variety of vehicles increases your chances of passing the pre-employment road test.

What types of internships are available out there for students who are currently in a truck driving school? Where can they go to find internships?

Roberts: In the truck driving industry most businesses would consider an internship to be a temporary job assignment under supervision, that may or may not lead to the offer of a permanent position. Trucking companies do not use this method of training or introducing new prospects to their industry. For truck drivers, a trucking company will hire a new driver as a permanent employee, subject to a probation period of generally 30 days. If this new driver is a recent graduate of a truck driver training program, the company will employ this person with the intention that the new driver is a permanent employee from the start, but they will place the driver in what they call a driver finishing program (DFP). While in the DFP, the new driver will be paid significantly less than a solo driver, and the new driver will be assigned to a trainer, and the new driver will drive under the supervision of the trainer, with progressively longer and more complex driving assignments. After a defined period of time, and at the recommendation of the trainer, the new driver is then assigned his or her own vehicle as a solo driver, and paid at full wages. This may be considered an “internship” of sorts, but the industry does not use that word.

Most such internships or, more correctly, Driver Finishing Programs, are found at long-haul, over-the-road, full truckload, irregular route carriers, which is the segment of the industry that does primarily interstate highway driving (as opposed to local city delivery) throughout the United States.

What do you recommend an aspiring truck driver look for when trying to find a driver finishing program?

Roberts: I would look for a company that has a well-defined and established Driver Finishing Program that describes the length of time and the pay scale, as opposed to a company that says “sure, we’ll just send you out in the truck with Joe for a while,” suggesting that they do not have a defined program.

Are most truck driving internships paid? Do you know what one could expect to earn during an internship?

Roberts: Most DFP’s are paid, generally at half standard wages or less. A pay scale of $300 to $400 per week would be typical.

When is a good time to look for a driver finishing program?

Roberts: Ironically, but logically, trucking companies hire most when the economy is robust and there is a greater demand for transportation services. Even when the economy is weak, however, there is still turnover in the industry due to retirement and job switching, so anytime is a good time to look.

How long is a typical driver finishing program?

Roberts: A typical, well defined and formal Driver Finishing program lasts from one to three months. One company that is known for hiring trucking school graduates assigns the new driver to a trainer for one month, and then pairs the new driver with another new driver (that has also spent a month with a trainer) for a second month.

Is a driver finishing program essential to getting hired or succeeding as a truck driver?

Roberts: It is not required to get hired in this industry. A DFP is most beneficial to truck driving school graduates who have had minimal or marginal training, and who need time to develop their skills and confidence on the job.

Graduates of elaborate and comprehensive truck driver training programs such as our program at DCTC are generally sufficiently developed to require very little on-the-job training before becoming a solo driver. Most on-the-job training for a comprehensively trained truck driving school graduate consists simply of getting familiar with a company’s practices and procedures.

What other things should students look for when searching for driver training programs?

Roberts: It is important to research companies to find those that are financially strong with good reputations and good safety records.

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