CEDAR RAPIDS — After almost a decade of operating, CRST will close its Cedar Rapids truck driver training school before the year’s end.
Chad Brueck, the president of CRST Expedited Solutions, said the move to close its North American Driver Training Academy aligns with the company’s mission of better retaining its current drivers rather than “simply hiring more.“
“We don’t have the need to hire more drivers than we used to,” Brueck said.
Since it began operating in 2013, NADTA graduated more than 12,000 drivers. However, only around 2 percent of those students were Iowa residents.
The schools last class will begin on Nov. 28 and finish by the end of the year.
“Over time, it’s just become more challenging for individuals to get CDLs (commercial driver's licenses) out of state, so many of our drivers don’t live in Iowa,” Brueck said.
“It just has become better for us to partner with other schools to find and hire new people who already have CDLs in their home state.”
The move comes in the midst of a continuing shortage of truck drivers across the country.
The American Trucking Association estimates there’s an overall need to still fill about 80,000 trucking jobs to meet the country’s demand. A study done by the association reports that need could double by 2028.
Brueck said that though the school will be closing, CRST remains committed to bringing new drivers to the industry while retaining their experienced ones.
“We still have our mentor driving program, where new drivers train with experienced drivers for weeks,” he said. “We are focusing on recruiting directly from any CDL schools out there. We have seen success with those plans already.”
Brueck said the company doesn’t yet know the future of the property, at 5020 18th Ave. SW.
“We’ve had some discussions, but we haven’t made a decision yet,” he said.
As for the trucks and trailers used for the school, some will become part of CRST’s road fleet and other pieces will be sold.
Around 20 employees will be affected by the school’s closure. Brueck said the company is working with each employee to offer them new jobs — in an office, technical or driving position.
Kirkwood Community College continues to offer its Class A CDL training program.
More home-weekly drivers
CRST, as with many other transportation companies in the state, have been increasing wages over the past couple years to stay competitive in a market that has been heavily recruiting drivers in the midst of supply chain issues and worker shortages.
Chief Operating Officer Mike Gannon told The Gazette in 2021 that CRST, where he has worked for 38 years, has more than 6,000 drivers spread out across multiple divisions around the nation with some driving interstate, but most traveling out and back fewer than 200 miles a day.
Gannon and Brueck said getting drivers home more often and raising pay rates are attempts to lure new people into the industry.
“We’ve increased wages more than we ever have over this last year and a half,” Brueck said. “Drivers also want to be home more often, so we’ve developed positions to make that happen.
“We still have over-the-road drivers, of course, who are out four to six weeks at a time, but now we also have more home-weekly drivers.”
Anthony Gambino, 50, has been in the transportation industry for more than two decades. The South Carolina resident has been driving with CRST for five years on an over-the-road route, traveling for weeks at a time.
“For me, it’s my wanderlust,” Gambino said. “And industrywide, there have been driver shortages since I got into the industry. But since being here, CRST has made good changes and that peace of mind is worth more than you know.”
Gambino is a mentor within the company, training newer drivers who already have their CDL, outside of the driving school.
“The lifestyle is a leading cause of turnover in this industry. And over the years, companies like CRST, have been making it easier and giving more flexibility for people looking for different things coming into the industry,” Gambino said.
“The good wages, the time at home, those are really important going forward in the industry.”
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