How community colleges are combating the driver squeeze

  (Image: Shutterstock)

(Image: Shutterstock)

The trucking industry is responding to the driver squeeze in a myriad of ways, from increasing pay per mile to offering competitive sign-on bonuses, as FreightWaves has reported. While carriers continue to try make the job appealing to drivers, community colleges across the nation are also doing their part to fight against the shortage.

By creating fast-track courses, students can earn their commercial driver’s license (CDL) in a matter of weeks, with some programs even advertising four-week classes online--even if they have no prior experience behind the wheel of a truck. These programs rely heavily on intense training and cutting-edge technology to make the most out of limited time in the classroom and on the road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation anticipates a 6% increase in the employment of heavy and tractor trailing drivers in the next 8 years, projecting a growth of 108,400 positions between 2016 and 2026. As younger generations enter the workforce, there’s a distinct attempt to appeal to them, as FreightWaves’ Chad Prevost previously discussed. It’s no surprise that community colleges are jumping at the chance to train new drivers to fill industry-wide gaps.

Chattanooga State Community College offers a 7-week commercial truck driving program and advertises 100% job placement for its graduates. Some colleges have even partnered with carriers to ease the transition from trainee to truck driver. Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio and Keller Logistics Group have teamed up to “provide the students of the professional truck driver school not only a cost effective way to enter the profession, but will also provide them the best education locally,” according to Keller’s CEO Bryan Keller. The two hope to “invest in the people that make up the communities in which Keller is headquartered and NSCC serves” and “anticipate hiring many of the graduates of this program.”

One such program is also offered by Central New Mexico Community College. “Truck drivers are in high demand in our state and across the country, and this accelerated program provides quick access to high-quality jobs,” CNM Ingenuity Executive Director Kyle Lee said. “Through ABQ CDL, we’re responding to our economy’s workforce needs while providing people with a new pathway to good jobs.”

FreightWaves, in an interview with Brad Moore, Director of Communications and Media Relations for Central New Mexico Community College noted that CNM is at “the intersection of I-25 and I-40 in the heart of Albuquerque, two highly traveled trucking routes,” making it an ideal spot for training the next generation of drivers. According to Moore, CNM has long offered a “college-credit truck driving certificate program that takes 12 to 15 weeks to complete, as well as contract training for local trucking companies that wanted one-on-one, accelerated training opportunities for their prospective drivers.”

By 2015, CNM was receiving more demand for “accelerated training that wouldn’t require a trucking company or individual to provide the vehicle,” and by fall 2016, “CNM Ingenuity, an arm of CNM that offers accelerated training programs in high-demand fields, received approval to use one of the Class A vehicles from the college’s traditional semester-long program for one-on-one trainings. The response to this type of training was very positive and led to significantly higher demand for accelerated training opportunities, with little to no marketing. That led to the planning of the new accelerated program,” Moore explained.

As for appealing to younger drivers, Moore estimates that 80% of inquiries about the new program have been from millennials, and that their first group of students has already started hitting the books. “The first cohort of the accelerated program started on July 9 with five participants. A new cohort of six to nine students will now start every four weeks. The August cohort is nearly full. In the fall, we plan to begin running two cohorts a day to meet demand,” Moore stated.

“Since announcing the launch of this program, we have received a tremendous response from trucking companies and people in our community who want to become truck drivers and earn a good living,” said Kyle Lee, chief executive officer of CNM Ingenuity. “As a community college, this is exactly what we strive to do – educate and train community members for quality jobs that serve the needs of our regional economy.”

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