Sometimes small changes can lead to “a meaningful impact” when industry and agencies work together, said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association.
Arkansas State Police and the trucking association recently worked together to establish a more efficient way to schedule the driving skills portion of the commercial driver’s license test, and Newton has received only positive feedback about the new system from those who have used it.
In mid-February, the Arkansas State Police launched a CDL Help Desk for scheduling the skills test. It offers prospective truck drivers a single point of contact for scheduling a test. Before the help desk was established, the drivers would call one of the six testing sites in Arkansas to schedule a test. Now, scheduling is completed by the help desk employee.
“The primary beneficiaries of the desk are truck driving schools and prospective truck drivers,” Newton said. “Our member companies and the industry as a whole benefits from improving the efficiency in the process and removing any barriers that delay those who are properly trained from being tested and entering the workforce.”
The trucking association has worked to improve efficiency in driver testing for at least the past two years, she said. Previously, drivers faced delays in taking the CDL test, and in 2015, the state police stopped allowing new third-party examiners to offer the skills test. This past fall, the idea for the help desk developed from conversations between the trucking association, Arkansas State Police and representatives of the governor’s office.
“Having the desk in place will allow both the industry and the state agency to have better knowledge and accountability of the testing procedures and site locations,” Newton said. “We intend to let this new process gain traction and collect data to address any additional needs.”
Improving the process could also help alleviate an ongoing driver shortage. It’s estimated that the industry will be short 100,000 drivers in 2017, with that growing to an estimated 160,000 by 2022. With 49 the average age of a truck driver, the American Trucking Associations the shortage is likely to get worse because of an aging workforce and lower numbers of qualified drivers.
SCHEDULING TESTS SOONER
After taking the written portion of the CDL exam, drivers must wait two weeks before they can take the skills test. But they don’t have to wait two weeks to schedule it. Only two weeks has to pass between the two tests.
The goal with the CDL Help Desk is to allow drivers to take the skills test immediately after two weeks have passed, instead having to wait three weeks or longer before taking it, said Trooper First Class Liz Chapman, public information officer for Arkansas State Police. Those who need to take the test have the option to either take the soonest test available, meaning they might have to travel to a test site that’s further away than the one nearest to them, or wait longer in order to take the test at a nearer testing site.
Chapman said the agency is being proactive to the growth in the state, allowing drivers to complete the testing quickly.
“They’re trying to get people tested quicker, and help people get trucks on the road,” she said. “It’s geared toward customer service.”
In the first two weeks since the help desk was started, 332 appointments for skills test have been scheduled. The CDL Help Desk can be reached at (501) 618-8149 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug Carter, president of Mid-America Truck Driving School, has yet to use the new help desk but spoke highly of its concept. He expects he will use it soon as his students will be testing in about two weeks. The school has locations in Springdale and Malvern, which have been in operation for three and 15 years, respectively.
“I think it’s really going to be a stroke of genius,” Carter said. “The public will benefit from the implementation of it.”
His only concern was whether he would be able to select the location of the testing site. Driving a tractor-trailer to site across would add travel expenses to his operation. Previously, because the testing site at the school in Springdale was where the examiners kept their offices, he would simply walk down the hall and set up an appointment. But with the help desk, he was unsure if it would still be that easy.
“I haven’t followed up on that,” Carter said.
NEW COMMUNICATION LINES
Scheduling the tests in advance using the help desk might prevent an unnecessary trip to a testing site when the examiner isn’t available, leading the help desk employee to direct the prospective driver to another testing site.
“It opens that line of communication,” said Bill Sadler, public information officer for Arkansas State Police.
In Northwest Arkansas, which Troop L covers, the skills test hasn’t been available since the first of the year, Sadler said. The two examiners for Troop L either resigned or retired, but two people have been hired to replace them and are set to begin in mid-March. Prospective drivers needing to take the skills test are being sent to the Troop J testing site, based in Russellville.
“We have 13 CDL examiners,” Sadler said.
Another testing site is expected to be built south of Harrison, which Troop I will cover, but it will be “at least two years before that’s operational.”
In 2016, 19,906 people passed the written exam, and 11,528 failed it. Also last year, 6,957 people passed the skills test, and 2,120 failed it. When asked about the investment into the help desk, Sadler said it was very little. It required a computer and a phone but no new software. The employee who works the help desk was formerly a CDL examiner and was transferred internally to the position.
Sadler said the help desk is more than just one person, it’s a “new mindset,” that includes customer service and how the agency is working with the trucking association to address concerns.