Chad Edwards, the founder and lead consultant of Elite ELDT, believes the best way to recruit new drivers is to promote them from your current employee base or hire non-CDL holders and train them in-house. He wants to help companies take control of their hiring pipelines and benefit from training safe, high-quality drivers from the ground up.
We recently interviewed Edwards about his new CDL training venture, his experience using ITI's On Ramp as part of an entry-level driver training program, and why the future of CDL training is online. A lightly edited version of our discussion follows.
What inspired you to start your company, Elite ELDT?
I wanted to offer businesses a new option for filling their driver vacancies, especially given the current driver shortages and CDL testing delays. By hiring new drivers from the ranks of their own employees or individuals without a CDL, companies not only have another outlet for recruiting drivers, but after training these individuals, they could end up with more productive drivers in the long run.
What prompted you to look into ITI's On Ramp™ as a way to deliver training?
One of my primary goals with Elite ELDT is to provide effective and efficient training. Part of being efficient is that I don’t want to take my students off the job any more than necessary. We try to schedule training around their regular work, so they can still be productive for their employer while training for their CDL.
On Ramp is the easiest way for students to complete the theory portion of training. They can take the courses on their own time, on evenings or weekends when they're away from work, or just whenever they have a few extra minutes. This will, of course, save the employer money because they’re not paying them to be sitting in a classroom somewhere rather than being on the job.
Another thing I like about On Ramp is that it's entertaining. and I think students will be able to retain a lot of what they learned. Rather than just giving them a book and saying, "Go read this," On Ramp training is interactive. For a beginner driver, it would get them excited about the journey they’re embarking on in their new career as a driver.
What is the training experience like for your students?
I want my students to be able to complete training as efficiently as possible. As I mentioned, these are people who are generally employed already by the client. We’re always trying to keep the client’s profitability in mind, so we try to avoid taking these employees away from their jobs as much as possible. Instead, we'll provide training in half-day sessions, which allows them to go back to work for the other half of the day. Or we may meet up after work for a few hours in the evening. These techniques have worked really well. The employer still gets work out of their employees, and the employees receive training at the same time.
One thing I do want to emphasize, though, is we want our training to be very efficient and very effective. So we don’t generally do big class sizes. That’s something I see a lot of driving schools doing. They've got 25 students standing around with only 3 trucks and 2 instructors. These students might be at school from 8am-5pm, and they get less than an hour in the truck. They're just standing around for hours at a time. That’s a huge inefficiency. Our approach is to have shorter training sessions with a lot fewer students. We check in with students after every session, and if they're struggling, we want to identify the reason and deal with it quickly. Time is money, and we aren't going to waste it.
How does On Ramp help you deliver more efficient and more effective training?
On Ramp does a much better job with the theory curriculum than I feel like I would do. If I tried to lecture students in a classroom setting, after a few hours, eyes start to droop, and I don’t want to be the one standing there talking for several hours a day. I’m a teacher and an educator, not an entertainer!
I looked at a few different programs, and I felt that On Ramp was the most interesting. It was more interactive. It’s a very modern offering compared to the others on the market. A lot of the other products I looked at seemed very dated. Overall, On Ramp is definitely something I'd be proud to have a client see or use. It’s thorough, modern and easy to understand, and you can cover a lot of topics in a relatively short period of time. The content is enjoyable, in-depth and thorough enough to cover the topic without taking all day to learn.
I believe On Ramp is the best product out there right now, and I definitely feel it takes a lot of the pressure off of an instructor versus covering all these things in the classroom. Honestly, a classroom environment seems kind of outdated these days, when you can do these things online, on your own time without having to drive somewhere. It makes so much more sense to just take the training at home. Students aren't on their own, of course, they can still ask questions and come to us if they need help, but overall it's a much better, more convenient experience for everyone. In addition, all the behind-the-wheel skills introduced in On Ramp will be reiterated several more times during the hands-on portion of training.
What would you say to companies who are still hesitant about online CDL training?
Several things come to mind. I've heard people say there's a greater chance of failure with online classes, but On Ramp's mastery-based approach solves that problem. With On Ramp, you can't progress without answering the questions correctly, so you have to prove that you understand the material.
I've also noticed in the CDL training industry, at least where I am in North Georgia, that the programs I’ve observed tend to be very old-fashioned. People just want to do it the same way they’ve always been doing it. That’s one reason I’m always pushing for what I believe is a better way to train people for a CDL. I don't think it has to be classroom vs. online, one or the other. The benefit of a classroom environment is that you can facilitate learning by asking questions and starting conversations. So why not assign online training beforehand, and use classroom time for deeper discussions after students have taken the online courses? On Ramp really provides the best of both worlds that way.
With the ELDT mandate just over a year away, where do you think the future of CDL training is headed?
I believe companies are better off if they offer their own training for employees who want to get a CDL. That's a big reason why I started Elite ELDT, in order to help companies provide that training. In the long run, if you train your employees from ground up, you'll be able to not only train them better, but train them in the ways your company wants them to operate. Their training will also be more relevant because it revolves around the vehicles you have and the freight you haul.
Just because someone has a CDL doesn't mean they have a good foundation of knowledge for your company's needs, especially because the standards vary so much from school to school. Some of that might change with the ELDT mandate, but right now, the reality is that the quality of CDL programs can vary widely.
Many times, you have to kind of start over if you hire an entry-level driver. You have to re-teach things they forgot, help them unlearn some bad habits they picked up while they were in school, and teach them about your company’s policy and procedures. On the other hand, if you start with an individual and teach them everything they need to know from the ground up, they'll be in a much better position to succeed. Your company will also benefit from safer, efficient, more productive drivers, which will make you more profitable in the long run.