Trucking’s age-old problem has been just that — the age of its drivers.
The median age of a truck driver is 46, which is five years older than the national average for all workers. As more and more drivers — especially those in their 60s and 70s, of whom there are many on the road today — decide to retire from commercial trucking, America’s highways are in danger of becoming a lot quieter.
This may sound good to commuters, until they realize that almost everything in their lives is shipped via truck.
It’s evident that the industry needs more drivers — young ones to be exact. The opportunity to make $50,000-plus a year with great benefits, all without going into debt for a college education, would seem like an ideal pathway for many 18-year-olds. That’s the message trucking companies have desperately wanted to convey, but the industry has long struggled to resonate with teenagers — until now.
High school students across the country are experiencing trucking firsthand through the efforts of the Next Generation in Trucking Association (NGT), a nonprofit education accelerator with the goal of promoting CDL driver and diesel technician programs in high schools and community and technical colleges across the United States. Its mission: “students, teachers, schools, business professionals, partners, and sponsors.”
NGT co-founder and Executive Director Lindsey Trent realized that teenagers aren’t likely to consider trucking unless they see its benefits firsthand; she figured the industry itself needed to make the first move.
“NGT is looking to create a diverse and equitable workforce for the trucking industry to provide technical education for those students that might not be excelling in the traditional classroom,” Trent said. “They’re probably not going to go to college, or if they do go for a couple of years and aren’t successful, we’ll try to catch those young people before they go down an incorrect career path by introducing them to trucking, hoping that it may be a good fit for them.”
Trent said that it’s very disheartening when career centers offering technical education have a program for every trade available except trucking, explaining that the field is underrepresented in high school education.
“We’re partnering with the industry and with educators to bring awareness regarding the trucking industry, and to let these administrators and educators know that we need drivers, we need diesel technicians, and we want to help support the creation of programs where they can produce these for us,” Trent said.
NGT has gained traction among industry leaders since its founding in 2020. Founding sponsors include The National Transportation Institute, DHL, software company Tenstreet, CDLLife, National Tank Truck Carriers, Reliance Partners and many more.
The association recently celebrated its newest partner, the Future Leaders of Indiana (FLI), a council within the Indiana Motor Truck Association. FLI consists of individuals in the trucking industry seeking leadership development and networking opportunities throughout the state.
“NGT wants to help FLI target high schools and career centers throughout the state, more specifically career technical education high schools, to start trucking programs, whether it’s CDL driving or diesel technician programs,” Trent said. “We’re trying to build those relationships with education by introducing young people to the trucking industry, and what it looks like to be a truck driver, diesel technician or a supply chain manager. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with our partnership with FLI in Indiana.”
Garrett Knollman, chairman of the FLI council and CEO at Transmark Logistics, added that trucking is typically an afterthought for high school students because of its lack of representation among trade schools. “Individuals may be best suited to be in the trucking industry, but without the opportunity to learn about it, it’s kind of tough for them to even make the choice.”
Knollman said these programs are perfect for hardworking students eager to make a good living but who feel that college isn’t for them. Moreover, the reality for many rural Indiana communities is that a college education doesn’t make it any less tough to find good work.
“If you look at a more urban setting, it’s a way out of what could be a not-so-great upbringing or environment,” Knollman said. “It’s a way for many to get themselves out of those situations where they may be drawn into less desirable things.”
NGT’s other founder, Dave Dein, is a high school truck driving coordinator and instructor in Patterson, California. Dein has created one of the nation’s first high school truck driving programs.
“Schools and industries, they don’t talk to each other,” Dein said. “Schools think they know what they’re doing to prepare students for the future, but if you don’t talk to the industry, you don’t know what you’re really preparing them for.”
Dein said he wants to help schools start CDL programs because most don’t know how. “I want them to use my curriculum,” he said.
Dein heads a one-year program for Patterson High School’s senior class, utilizing an on-site truck for pre-trip inspection training as well as air brake tests, coupling and uncoupling, and straight-line back-ins. Students also receive training through driving simulators, of which Patterson owns two.
“We start off every day with something called ‘Industry Updates.’ Like what are the hot topics of that day?” Dein said. “So students are constantly keeping a pulse on the industry, as far as emerging technologies and where the industry is going, because I want them to be ahead of the curve, so to speak.”
Once students have graduated from the program, Dein said they can enroll in its adult education program, which uses funds to contract drivers to a truck driving school where students gain behind-the-wheel training. “By the end of the summer, a student who went through our high school program can end up with a CDL at no cost to them,” Dein said.
Dein doesn’t boast of his program’s success but is immensely proud of what his students have gone on to accomplish after high school. Just two months into the program, he said that a parent visited him after school. Usually that isn’t a good sign, but on this occasion the man wanted to shake his hand and thank him for saving his son.
“He said that he was losing his son before he took my trucking class, and that he was on a path of self-destruction,” Dein said. “He had no self-esteem; he had no purpose in life, but he said that for the first time in his life, he feels that he’s tasted success.”
His son, Javier, went on to graduate from the program and become one of the youngest drivers for a company in California. According to Dein, the company said it wants more “Javiers” to join the fleet.
Dein previously spent summers rehabilitating former inmates through his nonprofit truck driving school and prison outreach Christian ministry, Founder Faith Logistics. But his commitment to NGT has pressed him to return to truck driving this summer, helping alleviate California’s commercial driver shortage, to raise money for his students. All of his earnings will go toward an NGT scholarship fund for his students. He didn’t start with a total in mind, but with more people offering support, he’s set a goal of $10,000.
“Students are going through the system and being told that in order to be successful in this world, you have to have a college degree. … Many of them have never even considered trucking as a career choice mainly because they don’t know anything about it. But a lot of times when you just give them a little bit of information, it really piques their interest,” Dein said. “Our mission is to educate young people on what kind of trucking careers are out there, and also to help other high schools start similar CDL programs like the one we started here at Patterson High School four years ago.”
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