By Brian Swartz

Weekly Staff Editor

Mainers seeking employment as commercial truck drivers can find the appropriate training — and employment opportunities await successful graduates.

But the training is rigorous.

Aspiring truckers receive “intensive hands-on training” during a five-week, 200-hour CDL (commercial driver license) training program offered by Northeast Technical Institute, said Director of Student Services Cory Thibodeau. “It’s accelerated training. Students can come in and in five weeks’ time go for their [CDL] license.

“We are an accredited truck driving training facility and a member of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association,” he noted.

Northeast Technical Institute offers commercial driver training for Class A and Class B licenses at its Bangor and Scarborough campuses. For students who work during the week, a part-time course spread across 10 weekends is offered at NTI in Scarborough.

Classes run 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students spend their first two weeks (78 hours) “in the classroom with our [licensed] CDL instructors,” said Thibodeau. The instructors in Bangor are Robert Daigle and Michael Francis.

Students learn such subjects as maintaining accurate logbooks, driving safety, and driver professionalism. The Maine Railroad Association provides instructors who teach students how to approaching and cross railroad crossings.

Class instruction also focuses on developing effective resumes, contacting prospective employers, and interviewing effectively with them. “Career building is an important service we offer our students,” Thibodeau said.

After the first two weeks, students start training at an NTI yard, where a truck cab gradually becomes the classroom. Each student obtains a state permit to train not only in the NTI yard, but also on local highways.

Initial training includes teaching students how to maneuver a truck and park it in an alley. According to Thibodeau, students train at the wheel of a commercial tractor combined with a 40- or 45-foot trailer.

“Before going out [to train] on the road, a student must demonstrate proficiency in the yard,” he said.

Once qualified to venture onto the highway, students spend 23 hours operating different equipment combinations in different driving situations, including interstate, local roads, and intown. “We try to give them exposure to everything we can because they never know what they’re going to be driving for equipment,” he said.

Students also spend 26 hours in a laboratory held at the NTI yard (the Bangor campus uses a yard on the Coldbrook Road in Hampden). During the lab, students learn how to perform pre-trip inspections and observe what other students and the instructors are doing.

After finishing the CDL training program, NTI students can take the CDL test with a truck and trailer provided by NTI. If a student fails the state-mandated road test, NTI instructors work with that student to develop the requisite driving skills to pass it.

“We are committed to our students successfully passing our [CDL] program and becoming licensed drivers,” Thibodeau said. “The NTI staff is focused on the quality of instruction and the individual learning needs of every student.”

He discussed the employment opportunities that await graduates of the commercial driver training program. To help students find post-graduation employment, NTI has “partnered with numerous companies throughout the industry” to “bring recruiters” to Bangor and Scarborough “and speak to the CDL classes,” he said.

Among the freight carriers collaborating with NTI are Central Maine Transport, H.O. Wolding, Schneider National Inc., and Werner Enterprises. As with freight carriers across the country, these companies review a driver applicant’s criminal history, job history, health history, and driving record. Different factors can disqualify a job applicant.

“The [NTI] Commercial Driver Training Department believes that its reputation is built on providing companies with the finest trained, safety-conscious drivers the school industry has to offer,” Thibodeau said. “Our dedication and commitment to student safety becomes the primary objective for those entrusted with operating the biggest and heaviest vehicles in the nation’s highway transportation system.

“If a student decides to become a long-haul driver, it’s virtually impossible not to get a job, contingent on them acquiring their license and passing a drug-screening, background check, and DOT physical,” Thibodeau said.

“The majority of students willing to accept a long-haul driving position typically have job offers before they even complete their program with NTI. For example, Roehl, Werner, Prime, U.S. Express, [and] Stephens Transport” all hire NTI graduates, he said.

Thibodeau estimated that 80 percent of the graduates become long-haul drivers. “They know that pay and benefits are good at many trucking companies,” he explained. Some freight carriers offer full tuition reimbursement for NTI graduates who join those firms and stay with them for a specific time period.