Mongin is the coordinator of the commercial drivers license training program at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Counties Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
She said it’s the only CDL training program in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
“We have 35 to 40 students per year in the CDL program,” Mongin said. “It is second only to our nursing program in popularity.”
Mongin said people must first obtain their CDL permit by taking a written test with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. They can then sign up for training to take the CDL Class A or B driving test. Class A qualifies a driver for tractor-trailers and Class B allows for vehicles like dump trucks. Further licensing is needed for other categories, such as bus driving.
“We train the driver for their road test,” instructor Mark Collins said Tuesday at the Fulton County Highway Department. “The driver must do a pre-trip inspection from front to back to show there is nothing broken and nothing missing on their rig.”
Collins said he trains drivers to look for the essentials — no leaks, at least 4/32- inch tread on the steering tires and other items needed to pass the road test.
“I’ve driven a lot of miles,” Collins said. “I’ve never hurt anyone.”
Collins acknowledges driving a tractor- trailer can be a daunting experience for some.
“You’re big, slow and ugly,” Collins said about tractor-trailers on the road. “Other drivers don’t understand how much space you need and get in your blind spot. You have to be very visual — always checking your mirrors.”
Collins said he constantly stresses to his students to be aware of vehicles around them. The course is 35 hours, usually over a four-week period, with two hours of driving time per session.
Jim Christman is a supervisor at the highway department who has more than a dozen years of experience with his CDL. He said the training is well worth the effort.
“It’s a high-demand occupation,” he said.
Mongin echoed Christman’s point. She said once the students go through the program and get their CDLs, they are hard to reach.
“They all have jobs,” she said.
Collins said he has only had two students over the years who were unable to pass the road test. He has been teaching the past seven years and said the one-to-one teacher-to-student ratio is a great situation for learning. Collins noted some of the perks once training is complete, including salary.
“Driving a tractor trailer is one of the few jobs you can get with no education and start at $35,000-per-year salary,” he said. “There’s a great shortage of truck drivers.”
Collins said the occupation is being monitored more closely for safety. Drivers can only drive a maximum of 500 miles per day and no more than 70 hours per week.
“You’ve got to be legal and keep a clean record,” Collins said. “By year two, you can make $60,000.”
Collins said he had an advantage in learning to drive a tractor-trailer because he grew up around logging equipment.
He said he is confident he could teach almost anyone to drive a truck because it doesn’t take innate skill as some professions do.
“Truck drivers are made, not born,” Collins said. “Anyone can learn to drive a truck.”
Mary Jane Harford owns The Mulberry Tree in Johnstown and has a small horse farm in Glen. She took the CDL training so she could drive her own dump truck on her farm.
“[Collins] was a wonderful instructor,” Harford said. “I passed the road test with flying colors. It is an excellent program.”
Harford cautioned there may be a “catch-22” when it came to converting the CDL to a job, however.
“Employers want a driver with a record of experience due to insurance liability,” she said. “You need experience to get a job driving, but you may have a hard time getting that experience.”
At Brown Transport in Fonda, Cliff Earl said they do their own training for their drivers. He said each type of specialized driving, such as bus driving, needs special endorsements and further training beyond the basic CDL Class A or B.
The fee for a CDL Class A program at HFM BOCES is $2,100 for 35 hours of training. The 12-hour Class B program is $650. Mongin acknowledged there is no placement service for graduates, but those who pass the road test have no difficulty getting driving jobs.
“It’s a very stable career,” Mongin said. “The United States would not function without truck drivers.”
For more information, call 736-4345.
Richard Nilsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Christman operates a
tractor-trailer as Mark Collins, HFM BOCES commercial
driving instructor, gives him
direction from the pavement at the Fulton County Highway Department in Johnstown on Tuesday.