“Who moved my cheese?” This question, posed in the title of author Spencer Johnson’s 1998 best-selling book, is a universal one. If you’ve read the book, you’ll immediately visualize the aforementioned “cheese” as goals to be achieved in life. (If you haven’t read the book, check it out!)
The folks at Wisconsin-based cheese company Sargento have taken this question to heart. Just ask Sargento employee Alex Ferreira.
After reaching his goal of immigrating to the U.S. from his native South Africa in 2018, Ferreira quickly began to search for more “cheese.” Today, thanks to a program offered by Sargento, he’s achieved yet another goal — becoming a professional over-the-road (OTR) driver, logging miles behind the wheel of one of the company’s big rigs.
“I was working in production on our shredded cheese lines at the time I saw Sargento was offering an apprenticeship for CDL drivers,” he told The Trucker. “When I saw that opportunity, I instantly knew it was for me.
“I was always attracted to the power and size of big rigs,” he continued. “The size of load that can be hauled has always fascinated me. and still does. The money to be made is also a big draw! It’s a great way to make a living.”
Ferreira was one of the first enrollees in the company’s apprentice driver program, which launched in early 2023.
“Sargento is big on promoting from within and doing internal training, opportunities with education and helping improve people’s livelihoods,” said Chris Human who’s in charge of the company’s fleet.
“We don’t have a high turnover rate here at Sargento, but we do have an aging workforce,” Human added. “We’re hoping this provides a pipeline of taking proven employees that fit our culture at Sargento and training them the way that we want them to be trained.”
All told, Sargento has about 50 over the road drivers, as well as about 14 local drivers and a handful of part-timers. In 202, the company’s private fleet — which consists of 44 trucks and 99 reefer trailers — delivered 2,149 outbound truckloads of product and covered a total of 4.9 million miles.
The new apprentice program is starting small, but the company plans to gradually grow the program to replace drivers as they retire.
“We’re taking on two to three apprentices a year,” said Nick Dickens, dispatcher. “We’ve partnered with Fox Valley Technical College out of Appleton, Wisconsin, as the program that we use. By doing this we’re able to consistently bring in a handful of drivers per year that we know we can find internally versus depending more on the current driver market.”
Through Sargento’s accelerated behind-the-wheel program, apprentice drivers first study, practice and earn their Wisconsin CDL; after that they begin the mentored portion of the program, working for months with experienced Sargento drivers to learn the ropes.
“When we start them with a mentor, we start them on the local side, and they familiarize themselves with dropping, hooking, bumping docks and running in-between our facilities, which is about a 30- to 40-mile radius,” Dickens said. “After we do that for a period of time, we transition them over to the OTR side. At this point, they do all the driving; our OTR mentor is strictly there to guide and help them as needed.”
Great care is taken in selecting the hand-picked mentors, Human says, not only because of their technical and driving skills, but also for their ability to relate well with learners. Each mentor is required to complete Sargento’s “train the trainer” course, which helps formalize the process of teaching adults.
“We have excellent drivers here, but not every great driver is going to make a great teacher,” Human said. “We looked for people that have the people skills, who have the patience and who have the empathy to be able to put themselves back into the position of just starting out and remembering what that was like.
“We also looked for a proven track record of being an experienced driver, a safe driver, one that prioritizes and makes sure they get to their appointments on time,” he continued.
Ferreira says he discovered that the combination of classroom and mentored instruction helps the program mirror, as much as possible, real-life driving scenarios. He credits his enjoyment of his new role directly to the quality of instruction he received.
“[The classroom and real life] actually line up quite well, and this is the benefit of good training,” he said. “The biggest part of this job is that if you can’t drive to start with, you’re not going to get anywhere anyway.
“As I drive by myself now, I have a very good relationship with all the mentors, and they are just a phone call away if I have any questions,” Ferreira continued. “The fact that Sargento is willing to give me and others this opportunity to go to school — and pay us at the same time — for something that I can use for the rest of my life and enjoy immensely is really a dream come true.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.