Need CDL Drivers? How to Train and Keep Local Drivers


  • Brittney D. Kohler
November 8, 2022 - (7 min read)

Commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) are required for municipal employees to do essential jobs safely each day – hauling trash, sweeping streets, driving school buses, and much more. However, shifts in the larger trucking industry have impacted communities that need CDL drivers. With a reported national truck driver shortage hitting historically high levels due to an aging workforce and poor working conditions, competition for qualified drivers has sent long-haul trucking salaries up and made hiring for municipal drivers more competitive.

During the first two years of the pandemic, local government hiring was down by 4.48 percent – 18 times greater than the total non-farm employment loss. Compounded by the fact that 29% of transportation and material moving jobs are hard to fill, many cities lost their qualified CDL drivers and struggled to keep those positions filled.

So, what can your city do if you need CDL drivers? The City of Girard in southeast Kansas (population: 2,682) saw the need and realized if they wanted to keep CDL drivers they might as well train them directly. Training is often done in the public works department for new CDL drivers, so it was a natural progression to become an approved CDL trainer through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The City of Girard shared some of their lessons learned and ways that other cities, no matter their size, can step up and self-help when it comes to filling CDL roles.

Talk to your State and Region’s Local CDL Training Providers

FMCSA’s Training Provider Registry is your go-to resource to understand how many licensed trainers and available CDL classes exist in your area. You can use the registry to find and ask local trainers if your city can share your job postings with their trainees so you can catch fresh new hires as they’re trained. If the city and others do not see enough CDL drivers available for the region, ask the provider to expand their number of trainings or class size of trainings. If they can’t, consider the next several options.

Partner with Postsecondary Institutions and Community Partners on CDL Training

To expand local offerings of CDL trainings, local postsecondary institutions and community partners can be excellent partners. Approach these organizations to discuss how they might support this training for your region. FMCSA encourages new training partners to review the requirements and apply here.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) also provides federal funding to assist individuals who qualify for training. Speak with your local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) to discuss the number of eligible training providers that exist in your state and region that provide CDL training and work with them to increase the number of eligible trainers. WIBs can be a vital resource to leverage to increase training capacity.

Become a CDL Trainer as a City

The cities of Girard, KS; Stayton, OH; Pell City, AL; and Smithfield, UT became CDL trainers as part of the FMCSA’s Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) program because they saw the need to train drivers in their areas. Some have noted that the price of sending their workers to training was going up and by self-training they limit their cost increases for municipal drivers.

FMCSA laid out the steps to becoming an ELDT training provider here, and they have a full overview of the ELDT program here. The ELDT Curriculum and Training Provider Checklist also ensure new ELDT trainers are prepared to train CDL drivers.

Like any training, it’s important to ensure you’re offering a quality training program and following all the requirements, but your city may be well positioned to become an ELDT trainer like Girard and others.

Use ARPA Recovery Dollars to Supplement Training Costs

There are many eligible uses for federal ARPA dollars, a workforce incentives are a clear need being met with these funds. For example, the City of Riverside, CA, committed a portion of its ARPA allocation to provide scholarships to their residents who may have experienced negative economic impacts during the pandemic for workforce and job training programs. They had a specific focus on the agricultural workforce, with an aim to increase the skills of these workers and contribute to increased food production to build food resiliency.  Trucking challenges have been widely discussed as pandemic induced and fit within the eligible criteria for ARPA use, so creating a similar program focused on CDL drivers could be the solution for your community.

Be Flexible to be a Competitive CDL Employer

Pay is not the only factor for employees; sometimes it’s time off or a flexible schedule that can better support and keep your workers in place. For example, Girard, KS, chose to move to a 4-day, 9-hour work week, and now receives more applications for open driver positions because employees are getting three-day weekends as well as competitive pay and a desirable work-family life balance.

Speak up during National Workforce Development Month in Your Community

This year, Workforce Development Month came at a time when workforce needs, including workforce shortages, are heightened across many industries and in communities of all sizes. As local leaders work to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and respond to growing and changing employer trends, ensuring we invest in and support local workforce is essential to local economic recovery. Whether it be filling quality infrastructure jobs or meeting the municipal staffing needs in cities, towns and villages, addressing the education, training and career advancement needs of the workforce across the nation is crucial for the local economy. 

Consider Right Sizing Equipment like Street Sweepers if CDLs are Hard to Find

Much of the reason that municipal roles require CDLs is the size and weight of the vehicles they’re using – think of garbage trucks, street sweepers and traffic safety gear. Some of these vehicles come in smaller and more manageable sizes under the threshold of requiring a CDL. This may be a good solution if the city’s current vehicles are ready to be replaced, if today’s vehicles are not being used at capacity, or if the city would like to shift to more hours of service using smaller loads. However, replacing or leasing capital equipment could be expensive and the cost and worker shortage of CDLs could be alleviated with enough new trainees so consider your options carefully.

Appeal to Retired CDL Drivers who May Be Willing to Take Some Shifts

One of the primary reasons for the CDL shortage is retiring truckers who were often long-haul road warriors for years of their lives. Recent retirees often do not want to continue with long-hauls but may consider doing some localized work if the hours, salary and conditions make sense to them to supplement their retirement or simply stay active. Consider a targeted advertisement or word of mouth campaign to bring in qualified, retired candidates to help your city meet your needs in the short-term.

Build a Relationship with Your State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) and Your Local FMCSA Division Office

The SDLAs and FMCSA collaborate on a daily basis to help various stakeholders, like cities, solve unique CDL challenges. Knowing ahead of time the points of contact in your SDLA and the local FMCSA Division Office in your state can help connect you with safety partners who can help you achieve your goals in training and keeping your CDL drivers. The list of FMCSA Division Offices is available here.

Utilize FMCSA’s Military Driver Programs

FMCSA, along with other federal departments, has programs for Veterans that cities can take advantage of as well.  If cities want to focus on Veterans as potential employees for CDL jobs, consider the FMCSA Military Driver Programs available here.

About the Author

Brittney D. Kohler

About the Author

Brittney Kohler is the Legislative Director of Transportation and Infrastructure at the National League of Cities.