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New program could entice high school grads into the trucking industry

Posted at 4:41 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 06:14:53-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla — We’ve all been impacted one way or another by the supply chain issues. You’ve probably seen bare shelves at the grocery store, or maybe it’s taken a little longer to receive an online order.

The problem has gone on for months but the trucking industry has attempted to become more universal in its training and entice younger drivers to get into the field sooner.

Daniel Cardenas is one month away from getting his Commercial Drivers License and plans to drive across the country in a semi-truck with a goal of visiting 48 states.

“Since there was a shortage there was a great demand and I was like oh, I could do that,” he said.

Daniel Wehnger is graduating from entry-level driver training at the same time.

The fact that we need the help, we need the truck drivers and then the money is really good,” he said, about why he chose this industry as a career.

Most of the drivers are aging out,” said Mary Okeefe, a lead commercial driving instructor at Pinellas Technical College. “We’re in our 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, you know, we’ve raised our families it’s time to come off the road.”

Which is one reason the industry has fewer drivers behind the wheel. It’s also because up until recently, 18-20 year-olds couldn’t travel across state borders. Okeefe believes that leads many of them into other industries.

“By the time they’re 21 and eligible to drive a semi-truck, they’ve already gotten three to four years in with another company and they’re set,” she said.

Congress has begun to test the waters and allowed 3,000 young drivers to participate in a pilot program that lets them drive across the country sooner.

“It would just be a way to bring the new young talent into the mix,” said Cardenas.

Okeefe would like to see it become permanent even though she knows there could be challenges to overcome.

Do they necessarily have the mentality and the maturity to take a truck from St. Petersburg to Chicago and be able to do it from start to finish without anybody looking over their shoulder,” she wonders.

But, that’s where apprenticeships come into play, she said.

Cardenas added that new drivers should expect long days and a not-so-typical schedule. Okeefe said it can also be a little lonely if you’re not driving with a team.

“I think that if the trucking industry is just honest and they tell you like it is and let you know what to expect and prepare you accordingly then I think that can handle the problem,” Cardenas said.

We’ve got more information about Pinellas Technical College and the Commercial vehicle driving program here.