Nationwide truck driver shortage impacting Alabama community colleges

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

SUMITON, Ala. (WIAT) — With truck driver shortages across the country, Alabama community colleges are trying to help fill the gaps.

Commercial driver’s license courses are offered at many locations across the state, including Bevill State Community College and Wallace State Community College.

“As far as the driver shortage, I don’t know if I have ever seen it like this,” said Marcus Carson, who heads up the CDL instruction program at Bevill State.

A shortage could impact the supply chain and lead to higher prices of goods.

“If we can’t get drivers out there, it affects all of us, it affects all of your industries, because if you can’t move freight, you can’t sell your products, so it has a trickle-down effect,” said Carson.

Carson also serves as chair of the career tech education programs. On average, Carson said Bevill State tries to graduate about 30 people from the CDL course every six weeks.

“We have a lot of companies coming in to recruit, here in our classes. We allow companies in. We have some companies we hadn’t seen that are recruiting now,” said Carson.

Higher starting pay and incentives have made truck driver jobs more attractive, Carson said. Some recent law changes have also made it easier for younger students to obtain a CDL after completing certain requirements.

“We are seeing some of those younger students, our biggest student age is probably around the 30s or 40s, people looking for a change of career,” said Carson.

Starting pay will vary based on several factors, but has increased over the years and can range between $40,000 and $70,000, Carson said.

The growth opportunities attracted Derrick Williams to enroll in a CDL course at Bevill State.

“I have some family members who are truck drivers and I see how good it has been to them and their family over time. I was a coal miner that was laid off and I needed to regroup, find another way of making income to better me and my family,” said Williams.

Williams said he’s prepared to work hard over the next several weeks and sees job prospects on the horizon.

“There are some recruits that will be in on the third week to help us out with jobs. There are some big companies coming in, there are some small companies coming in, so it is not like I am going to be out of a job two to three months,” said Williams.

There is also an increased demand for diesel technicians. Wallace State Community College offers a CDL course and a program for diesel technology.

“It is like picking apples off a tree right now. There is so much money to be made in the diesel field, whether it is CDL or diesel technology,” said Jeremy Smith, the lead diesel technology instructor at the Hanceville campus.

Smith said there are apprenticeships and opportunities for growth after completing school. Diesel technicians also graduate with a Class A CDL as part of the program.

With the shortage, it’s possible graduates could be asked to perform tasks as a driver or a technician.

“We’ve had more visitors here in the last two to three weeks looking for technicians than we have ever had in the 13 years that I have been here,” said Smith.

There has been a concern about a shortage in drivers for fuel tankers, potentially leading to increased prices at the pump. Smith explained the impact could also expand to other products.

“All of your online buying, it comes from a truck. Everything that you get comes from a truck at some point,” said Smith.

Another way Wallace State hopes to recruit additional technicians is through its’ ‘Diesel by Distance program, aiming to reach students in more rural areas who cannot drive to campus often.

The program allows students to learn remotely with the help of virtual simulations that help practice real-life situations.

“Everything from changing a tire to a wheel, putting on pistons, rods, rings, bearings, crankshafts, clutches, transmissions, all the repair procedures you would have to do in the field,” said Smith.

Smith said the virtual simulations don’t take away from the program because students must still come to campus for required in-person assessments that can be done on a more flexible basis

“The next thing you do is go to that $180,000 truck and you do the exact procedure so you understand that what you are doing. You may need more practice at it, but that takes that learning curve down,” said Smith.

Both community colleges said they hope the shortage will lead to more enrollment in training programs.

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