With an aging workforce and a growing driver shortage, many trucking companies are lowering their standards for driver training. Steve Williams, founder and CEO of North Little Rock, Arkansas-based Maverick Transportation LLC is taking the opposite approach.
On Thursday July 24, Maverick unveiled the expansion of a training center that will add more than 13,000 square feet to their previous facility. The $4 million structure features multiple adjustable classrooms and five new training bays, which gives Maverick the ability to train 210 drivers at any one time.
Maverick hauls predominantly in the flatbed sector, so specialized training is essential. Proper load securement and an emphasis on safety have always been hallmarks of Maverick’s training program. Williams has always been an industry leader in adopting the latest safety technologies, from collision avoidance systems to hair follicle testing for drugs, and his new training center is the company’s latest example of investing in their drivers and the betterment of the trucking industry as a whole. As Williams made his opening remarks, he took pride in pointing out that the shiny new facility was built primarily with products that Maverick transports – steel, wood and glass.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was also on hand to speak to the capacity crowd and praise Williams for his efforts. While Beebe’s remarks may have been brief, he made it clear that Williams and Maverick don’t take any shortcuts. “They are the best I’ve ever seen at what they do. He’ll pay more, he’ll do more, and he’ll respond more. It’s easy for folks to take the low road. It’s never been an option for this company,” Beebe said. “Arkansas is noted for great trucking companies, but this is absolutely the best.”
While the opening of Maverick’s driver training center was a celebration, Williams also used the event as an opportunity to voice concerns about the state of the nation’s infrastructure. No increase in the fuel tax for the past 20 year has led to inadequate highway funding. Meanwhile America’s population numbers and freight volume continue to increase.
“The reason I share that with you is that we’re at a pivotal point in our history on how we’re going to move freight in this country,” Williams said. “We have to recognize that things are different. They’re much different than they used to be. We’re trying to deal with that reality because it’s our obligation to try to make our driving jobs careers of choice and not of last resort.”
Seventy-five percent of Maverick’s drivers come to the company without previous experience, so the cost for training them is expensive. Williams estimates the number to currently be approximately $10,000 per driver. “And we don’t know if that individual, once they graduate, get the keys to that truck, will be with us one day or the rest of their lives,” he said. Williams added retaining over-the-road drivers can be tough when the natural gas industry can pay its drivers much better wages.
Williams said more than 50,000 people expressed an interest in driving for Maverick last year, but they were only able to hire less than a thousand. “That means we were only able to hire two percent of the people that wanted to come to work for us for a long list of reasons,” he stated.
One possible solution to the driver shortage could come from hiring soldiers who are currently exiting the military. With those numbers at high levels, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched a Hiring Our Heroes program and selected a company called FASTPORT to help veterans find jobs in the trucking industry.
Jim Ray, a third-generation transportation professional who recently co-founded FASTPORT, was also at the ceremony to welcome Maverick as a new colleague in his efforts to find promising career opportunities for military personnel and their spouses.
Ray said the greatest challenge in converting these veterans to truck drivers is cultural, and that our industry must dispel myths about low pay, infrequent home time, and limited career advancement. He says fleets like Maverick are providing opportunities to break through those perceived ‘glass ceilings’.
While Ray hopes to start the new generation of great truckers, it’s clear that Williams and his Maverick Transportation team are well on their way to raising the bar in the driver training arena.