Education focus: JCCC CDL training puts students in the driver’s seat for a new career
A shortage of truck drivers means the trucking industry is in need — and Johnson County Community College's truck-driving program is there to help.
American Trucking Associations estimates that the current shortage of drivers is roughly 35,000 to 40,000, ATA says on its website. But because of retirements, individuals leaving the industry and economic expansion, trucking companies will need to recruit nearly 100,000 new drivers a year over the next decade to keep pace with the country’s freight needs.
There are two types of commercial driver's licenses: CDL A and CDL B. The B license allows drivers to operate single-unit vehicles like school buses, garbage trucks and dump trucks. The A classification allows drivers to operate combination vehicles like semi-trailer trucks.
Phil Wegman, program director for Transportation Continuing Education at JCCC, said some students have their CDL B and have driven vehicles such as passenger buses or construction trucks. "They are normally interested in advancing from the CDL B to the A because it pays better," he said.
JCCC's 160-hour CDL A program trains drivers over nine weekends. Classes meet from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays with the behind-the-wheel training scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The format is a change from the previous five-week, Monday-Friday program, Wegman said. "We changed the program format to accommodate the person who works through the week and only has weekends available."
Wegman said the jobs are stable and the pay is good, and for the right person it can be a perfect way to make a living.
"Sometimes we refer to that CDL as a golden ticket, because it's the ticket to getting a decent-paying job, especially if you had a job you'd been working, making minimum wage or maybe just a little bit over; this is going to pay a lot better than that," he said.
The starting pay for licensed commercial truck drivers is typically in the "upper 30s to low 40s" to begin training driving, Wegman said. And drivers who work for food companies, for example, like Sysco, McLane or Heartland Meats, who also unload their trucks, can make double that amount. Over-the-road or long-haul drivers can average about $82,000 a year, he said.
"The hidden secret here is, it's hard work, it's not very glamorous work, but a person can make a very good living driving a truck," he said.
However, Wegman said, you have to look beyond the pay. "Look at the work you're going to be doing, because you're going to have to be spending every day, at least eight hours a day, doing it, so you'd better enjoy what you're doing, or it is going to feel like drudgery."
Wegman said the CDL program at JCCC addresses the nature of the work in class, but the topic is also addressed in a free orientation session JCCC offers for anyone interested in learning more before signing up.
Rod Wiseman was one of those people for whom the job is a good fit. He was in sales and service for professional-grade lawn equipment at his family's business when he attended an employment session for the BNSF intermodal rail facility in Gardner. An instructor from JCCC was there, and for Wiseman, it clicked.
"I'd been around trucks all my life," said Wiseman, who lives in Gardner. "It all kind of fell into place, I took a chance, and it was in my back yard."
He now works for McLane, a grocery supply chain services company, on a route that takes him up and down the highway to Omaha and back.
"They're very thorough," he said of the JCCC program. "There are some programs that say they can teach you in 24 hours, but the extra training was worth it."
For more about the CDL programs at JCCC, visit http://www.jccc.edu/academics/transportation/commercial-drivers-license, or call 913-469-8500.
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