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CCJ Innovator: KLLM’s unique approach to using driving schools, tuition to recruit and retain new drivers

CCJ Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges. If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact CCJ Editor Jeff Crissey atjcrissey@ccjmagazine.com or800-633-5953

Jim Richards, KLLM president and CEO, says the new Texas school represents an innovative partnership between his company and Cedar Valley College.

Jim Richards, KLLM president and CEO, says the new Texas school represents an innovative partnership between his company and Cedar Valley College.

Fleets have implemented many different strategies to address their driver recruiting and retention challenges, including higher pay, enhanced benefit packages, sign-on bonuses, performance rewards, more mileage, new equipment, dedicated and preferred routes and additional home time, among other perks.

KLLM Transport Services/FFE (CCJ Top 250, No. 39), a Richland, Miss.-based temperature-controlled carrier, has found that one of the best ways to track down and keep drivers is to find newcomers to the industry and train them – the earlier the better, in hopes of possibly influencing them to stick around longer.

The company’s services throughout the United States and Mexico include single and team over-the-road, regional – based from Atlanta and Chicago – and dedicated, including private fleet enhancement and replacement, with a fleet of 3,800 tractors and 5,500 trailers. Intermodal services provide intracontinental transportation across multiple modes using more than 1,200 trailers.

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KLLM’s Logistics Services provides customers with options beyond its fleet capacity. The company’s carrier network is comprised of both large and small fleets offering full truckload, less-than-truckload, air and ground expedited and specialized freight services. To keep customers informed across the supply chain, it guarantees 24/7 dispatch and customer service, load tracking, daily check calls and emailed updates.

KLLM is owned by Duff Brothers Capital Corp. – brothers Thomas and James Duff, two Mississippi businessmen who in 2013 purchased another large refrigerated hauler, Dallas-based Frozen Food Express Industries, for $38.2 million.

Mississippi diversity

In 2012, KLLM began offering $4,000 scholarships to cover the cost of training for students enrolled in the Commercial Truck Driving program at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss. The program now is housed at the first KLLM Driving Academy in Richland, which opened as a new separate facility in March 2014.

The KLLM Driving Academy in Lancaster, Texas, is a new two-story 44,000-square-foot school with modern classrooms and a residence hall.

The KLLM Driving Academy in Lancaster, Texas, is a new two-story 44,000-square-foot school with modern classrooms and a residence hall.

The Hinds program is available as an eight-week course to both daytime and evening students. The curriculum includes U.S. Department of Transportation rules and regulations, Mississippi requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license and hands-on tractor-trailer operation. Program graduates receive a Hinds diploma upon completion of student requirements.

The KLLM Scholarships, which cover the entire cost of the Hinds driver training, are available for qualified applicants who agree to a one-year period of employment with the company. Eligible applicants must be a current or prospective Hinds student who is at least 21, be a high school graduate or GED recipient and meet the normal requirements for any KLLM job applicant.

“We hope this scholarship will eliminate the financial burden for anyone who wants to get job training but can’t afford to,” says Kirk Blankenship, KLLM’s vice president of driver resources. “We want to give back to our community and at the same time develop a pool of new truck drivers who can go right to work for KLLM. This program serves our need for drivers and helps Mississippians who are looking for work in our industry.”

Hinds and KLLM recently were able to boost their training capabilities thanks to a $250,000 gift from the Walmart Foundation intended to help diversify the ranks of the trucking industry.

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The money – part of a larger $100 million commitment by the retailer to bolster workforce training, education and career pathways for retail workers nationwide – will support training women and underserved populations who enroll in the driving academy.

The money comes to Hinds via the Jackson, Miss.-based Foundation for the Mid-South. “Walmart supported us in this plan to expand opportunities to all folks, but gave us a challenge to do it for women,” said Ivye Allen, foundation president.

Windy City school

Last August, Prairie State College of Chicago Heights announced a partnership with KLLM Driving Academy to collaborate on CDL training. The agreement combines the resources of PSC and KLLM to address the needs of individual students, as well as the service and industry sectors. It also is intended to ensure that Illinois has an adequate supply of skilled truck drivers with a CDL to preserve the region’s competitiveness and economic opportunity in the industry.

Jim Richards, president and CEO

Jim Richards, president and CEO

“KLLM is very excited about the partnership we have created with Prairie State College,” says Jim Richards, KLLM president and chief executive officer. “This partnership will be very beneficial in the training of individuals seeking to begin a career of being a professional truck driver. Our curriculum will provide individuals with the skill set to be successful, and in addition, upon completion at the academy, we will also offer them employment.”

Through support from KLLM, students in the program will receive scholarship opportunities to incur no out-of-pocket tuition costs, stipends during the training and a six-week paid internship if they agree to one year of employment with KLLM at the conclusion of the training.

The program is designed for the 21-and-older student with no commercial driving experience and includes four weeks of school, a two-day company orientation and internship. Students earn their CDL within four weeks of training totaling 160 hours. Refresher training also is available for individuals who wish to renew their CDL and obtain employment with KLLM.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the people in the PSC community and beyond who are interested in obtaining their CDL,” says Dr. Terri L. Winfree, PSC president. “Through this program, students will be supplied with a marketable skill, a valuable college and industry credential and job placement. We are pleased to be part of such a unique partnership with KLLM.”

Texas training

In September, the company celebrated the grand opening of a new training location in Lancaster, Texas. Richards cut the ribbon on the two-story 44,000-square-foot school in a ceremony with more than 300 guests in attendance.

The state-of-the-art facility offers an 18-day accelerated driver training program for Texas residents and features classroom and behind-the-wheel training, road and range instruction and driver safety education.

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“This school represents an innovative partnership between KLLM and Cedar Valley College that will help fill key jobs in the nationwide trucking industry,” Richards says. “It leverages KLLM’s reputation as a leader in transport services with Cedar Valley’s strong commitment to providing quality education that leads to jobs and career pathways.”

The training facility features modern classrooms, an onsite physical laboratory, simulators, electronic log and refrigeration labs, a 4-acre backing range, a full-service cafeteria and lodging facilities for 43 students in private hotel-like rooms. The residence hall section has refrigerators, microwave ovens, cable TV, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, computer labs and a study hall.

The school will help both company drivers and independent contractors earn their CDL and learn about professional driving techniques, DOT regulations, accident prevention, cargo claim management, temperature-control chain compliance and the ins and out of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance Safety Accountability program.

Upon graduation and earning a CDL license, students have the opportunity to be placed as a professional driver with KLLM/FFE. The fully accredited driving academy holds a Career School Certificate by the Texas Workforce Commission and is open to any Texas resident.

“Our Lancaster campus is specially designed to meet the needs of new driving students and help them as they start their new careers,” Blankenship says.

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Dean Smallwood is managing editor of Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive. He has more than two decades of journalism experience, with more than half of that spent covering the transportation industry. Daytime Phone: 800-633-5953, ext. 1039