Programs offering free CDL training, high school students outreach to tackle truck driver shortage

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A lack of qualified commercial truck drivers and an aging driver population remains pressing concerns within the trucking sector. 

In Oregon, more than 325 new truck drivers received free CDL training programs thanks to a $3.4 million federal grant. Notably, all program participants have already secured employment opportunities.

The grant is awarded by the Good Jobs Challenge, one of the Economic Development Administration’s workforce development program, which distributed $500 million in grants to 32 worker-centered workforce training partnerships. The initiative, named Driving Prosperity, is led by Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board (SOWIB) in collaboration with Lane Workforce Partnership and Rogue Workforce Partnership. Other partners include regional workforce training organizations, employers, associations and educational entities.

Rachel Larson, Driving Prosperity program manager at SOWIB, explained that the entity had been working with public, private and charitable entities since 2018 to tackle a driver shortage. With six counties under the program, the grant allows a larger regional approach by combining three workforce boards, three transportation sector partnerships and seven trucking driving schools working together to increase the number of CDL drivers in Southern Oregon.

“Right now, there are more trucking jobs than qualified drivers,” said Larson. “Despite the labor demand, significant barriers impede job entry. Truck driver training programs are expensive and do not qualify for federal financial aid. Our goal is to increase the number of licensed drivers.”

Larson explained that residents who live in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine and Lane counties are eligible to apply for funding, as long as applicants meet the criteria needed to obtain a CDL.

If students are unable to complete the program during their scheduled class dates, Larson noted that they don’t have to give back any portion for the costs of their class. “Limited available training spots can make it difficult to accommodate students who don’t complete within their scheduled class, but reasonable accommodations are made to give every student a fair chance at successfully completing the program,” she said. In some cases, students have been able to finish their training outside of the scheduled completion date.

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Once completed, students aren’t required to work in the state of Oregon. “Ideally, we want students to stay in our local communities to live and work, but they are under no obligation to the program to do so,” said Larson.

Upon graduating from the CDL program, Larson explained that they aim to offer training and employment opportunities. The program helps participants with job search, interviewing skills and even assists with the purchase of items required for work like boots, gloves, and work clothing. “We remain committed to supporting students until they get employed,” she said.

The next generation

The Next Generation in Trucking Association is also another program hoping to reach to a younger demographic by offering programs focused on high school and college students.

The program is focused on getting young people interested in careers in trucking and works with schools to help them start programs, explained Lindsey Trent, president and co-founder.

“About 32% of juniors in high school are making their career choices and 43% of seniors are making their career choices,” Trent pointed out. “We need to make sure we’re reaching these students at a young age. Also, now, career explorations happen in middle school, and middle schools are having career fairs. We want to see trucking companies go to schools and see if they can be involved in the career fairs and make young people aware of the careers that we have.”

Trent also added that with the average age of drivers for a lot of companies in their 50s, and the average age of new entrants in their 30s, it’s also worth considering what can be done to lower those ages and start getting younger people in the industry.

Trent explained that there are a lot of opportunities to obtain free CDL training as a high school student. Starting with 15 programs, Trent noted that they have 50 programs now, with around 300 schools also interested in starting trucking programs. They have also partnered with 250 diesel tech programs for high schools. 

Trent said this year, the Alabama Trucking Association partnered with Gadsden State Community College in offering a cohort of high school senior students a year in a diesel technology program and the ability to enter then the college to continue with a CDL program.  

Depending on the state, Trent explained it can be a long process. For one, 18-year-old individuals can only cross state lines under specific circumstances.

Trent explained they also have a safe driver apprenticeship program and are looking for more carriers to the program.

Cost is also an issue when working with a school to start the trucking program, she added. The program recommends driver stimulation training, which usually requires a grant to get the simulator. “We applied for a Department of Labor grant for that, and if we get that, it will help get simulators schools. We’re hopeful about that,” Trent said. 

Pamella De Leon is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. An avid reader and travel enthusiast, she likes hiking, running, and is always on the look out for a good cup of chai. Reach her at [email protected]