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Military members can get the cost of CDL training covered at CCAC

Truck Fire Investigation
Matt Rourke
/
AP
In this March 31, 2021 file photo, motor vehicle traffic moves along the Interstate 76 highway in Philadelphia.

Former military members (as well as some family members) can get free commercial driver’s license training at the Community College of Allegheny County through a new federal grant. Some hope the program from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could help eliminate driver shortages.

Occupations that require a CDL, such as driving a school bus or a truck, have seen declining participation in recent years. According to Darius Markham, the CDL coordinator at CCAC, the U.S. is short about 75,000 CDL drivers. He estimated that could double over the next 10 years.

“Some of it is driven by the advent of things like Amazon and online ordering, because all of those things have to travel across the country by truck,” he said. “Somebody has to drive that truck.”

The problem is exacerbated by the demographics of the typical truck driver, which skew older and male. Many drivers want to retire, or can no longer meet physical requirements such as good vision, hearing, and healthy blood pressure.

“The industry is actually changing because of how tight the pool has gotten,” said Markham.

Some companies have offered pay increases to encourage more drivers to apply. CCAC reports that locally, a new driver can expect to make about $45,000 in their first year.

Markham said they’re also hiring women and people of color at higher rates than they have in the past, though men still dominate the field.

But some people who would consider becoming truck drivers can be deterred by the cost of training, which runs about $4,900 at CCAC. Would-be drivers typically don’t qualify 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 get started. And then on the other side I have a lot of companies who would love 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 eliminate the financial barrier for some people.

“If we can get past that hurdle of people being able to pay for this, at that point it opens up. I could literally [train] hundreds of people a year if we can get past that hurdle of how people pay,” said Markham.

He said veterans often do very well in the trucking industry.

“They’re used to irregular hours, they’re used to being away from home if they need to be.” Markham said. “Veterans are problem solvers, and so if they have an issue with the truck, they don’t just sit and wait for somebody else to fix it. They come up with solutions to get it done.”

A lot of trucking company owners and managers are also veterans who want to support other people in the military, Markham said.

“Companies know that veterans do well at this, so they will actively recruit veterans, they will give them bonuses for signing up with the company,” he said. “In a lot of ways, there are actually fewer barriers to veterans than some of the other groups, because companies really do seek them out.”

The program has full tuition funding for 31 participants this year. CCAC also holds free information sessions every Wednesday at Boyce Campus. Find more information here.