Society: FleetForce Truck Driving School
Tra Williams, owner and CEO of FleetForce Truck Driving School in Winter Haven, is on the front lines of the supply chain crisis that has unfolded amid the pandemic. Bottlenecks and delays at the country’s ports have been exacerbated by a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. But Williams, 48, who bought the company, formerly known as NBI Truck Driver Training last year, has big ideas on how to get more people into the industry. It has partnered with the Florida Trucking Association to launch a pre-employment scholarship program for people who want a job driving a big rig or other utility vehicle but cannot not afford the $6,500 FleetForce fee.
The average annual salary for truck drivers has jumped in recent years, to $78,000, Williams says. And students who successfully complete FleetForce’s four-week Commercial Driver’s License Certification course are guaranteed employment through the school’s corporate partnerships with several commercial trucking companies.
“The trucking industry got into a scarcity situation because they didn’t really control the narrative the way they should about what it means to be a professional driver.” — Tra Williams, owner and CEO of FleetForce Truck Driving School
The program has been a boon to FleetForce, which Williams says saw gross revenue increase 60% in 2021. (He declines to provide specific revenue figures.) “We will triple in size in 2022,” he says. , “and we will go from two slots to six slots. Since we announced this program on November 29, we have received over 2,000 applications. We’re drinking from a fire hose right now.
Williams predicts the supply chain crisis will get worse before it gets better. The carriers FleetForce partners with – major trucking companies such as Knight Enterprises and Heartland Express – collectively have more than 1,000 job openings as the industry’s workforce ages and is likely to s exhaust.
“But every day,” he says, “that number increases. About 1,200 truckers retire in America every week. And I assure you that we do not offer licenses to so many [new drivers]. We’re falling behind just to replace engines that leave the industry, so we’re not meeting future demand based on economic growth. If I could train 1,000 people and license them tomorrow, every one of them would have a job waiting for them.
Williams notes that the logistics industry’s woes had been brewing for a long time — not just something that arose out of the pandemic.
“Carriers should invest in people’s future,” he says. “The trucking industry found itself in a shortage situation because it didn’t really control the discourse it should have had on what it means to be a professional driver. I want to dispel the myth that trucking is only for low-skilled, low-educated, low-wage people, because it’s quite the opposite.
Trucking companies, adds Williams, have also done a poor job of recruiting female drivers.
“There is no pay gap in this industry,” he says. “A mile is a mile. Women are less likely to get impatient and get road rage, so they are cheaper to insure. They also change jobs less often. So the carriers we work with don’t hesitate to hire women.
FleetForce set a goal of 20% female enrollment in 2020, Williams says, and surpassed it, with 22%. “One in five isn’t great for a male-dominated industry. We hope to reach 25% next year.
FleetForce can train approximately 100 drivers per month – 50 at its main campus in Winter Haven and 50 at a secondary site at State College of Florida’s Bradenton campus. (It also derives a significant amount of revenue, Williams says, from on-site training at its business partners’ facilities nationwide.) In the first quarter of 2022, FleetForce will open a third training center at the Venice campus. of the CFS.
“Small and medium business markets are about people,” Williams says. “These are two-income families who live on 50, 60,000 dollars a year; maybe they have two or three children. They can go through FleetForce and five weeks later I’ll have three job offers for them, paying $65,000 a year.
Williams expects 2022 to be a reckoning year for companies that aren’t doing enough to keep their employees happy, and trucking companies, in particular, have a chance to tap into disgruntled workers from other industries. who left their jobs in the middle of the big resignation.
“I think there are a lot of good companies doing it well,” he says. “The trucking industry is no different from any other industry in America. Of course, there are employers who do not compensate their employees or treat them as they should be treated. That’s how it is in retail; it’s like that in real estate; it’s like that everywhere. But I’ll say there’s a tidal wave of really good [trucking] companies that recognize that drivers are their greatest asset and treat them accordingly.
One such company, Alabama-based RE Garrison Trucking, which has a partnership with FleetForce, has gone so far as to offer a “concierge” to its drivers. “While you’re on the road, maybe your teenager is calling you because he’s run out of gas. [The driver concierge] find someone to go and give them gas,” Williams said. “Maybe your babysitter cancels you. They will help you find a babysitter. It’s an amazing program. When they told me about it, I was blown away. I’m a huge fan of these guy there.