Former military personnel (as well as some family members) can get free commercial driver’s license training at Community College of Allegheny County through a new federal grant. Some are hoping that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration program of the US Department of Transportation could help eliminate driver shortages.
Occupations that require a CDL, such as driving a school bus or a truck, have seen their participation decline in recent years. According to Darius Markham, the CDL coordinator at CCAC, the United States is short of about 75,000 CDL drivers. He estimated that this could double over the next 10 years.
“Part of it is due to the advent of things like Amazon and online ordering, because all of those things have to travel across the country by truck,” he said. “Someone has to drive this truck.”
The problem is exacerbated by the demographics of the typical truck driver, who bias older people and men. Many drivers want to retire or can no longer meet physical demands such as good vision, hearing and healthy blood pressure.
“The industry is changing because of the narrowness of the basin,” Markham said.
Some companies have offered pay increases to encourage more drivers to apply. The CCAC reports that locally, a new driver can expect to earn about $ 45,000 in their first year.
Markham said they are also hiring women and people of color at higher rates than in the past, although men still dominates the field.
But some people who would consider becoming truck drivers may be put off by the cost of the training, which is around $ 4,900 at the CCAC. Prospective drivers are generally not eligible for the same grants and loans as other students.
“I have a lot of people who would like to take [the training course] but they don’t have $ 4,900 to start. And then on the other side, I have a lot of companies that would like to hire people, but they don’t have a license, ”Markham said. “There’s a $ 5,000 void here. “
He hopes the federal grant will help break down the financial barrier for some people.
“If we can get past this barrier of people being able to pay for it, at this point it opens. I could literally [train] hundreds of people a year if we can overcome this barrier of the way people pay, ”Markham said.
He said that veterans are often very successful in the trucking industry.
“They are used to irregular hours, they are used to being away from home if they need to.” said Markham. “Veterans are problem solvers, so if they have a problem with the truck, they don’t just sit and wait for someone else to fix it. They offer solutions to achieve this. “
Many owners and managers of trucking companies are also veterans who wish to support other military personnel, Markham said.
“Companies know that veterans do well in this field, so they will actively recruit veterans, they will give them bonuses to register with the company,” he said. “In a lot of ways, there are actually fewer barriers for veterans than some of the other groups because companies are really looking for them. “
The program has full tuition funding for 31 participants this year. The CCAC also hosts free information sessions every Wednesday at the Boyce Campus. Find more information here.