Rod Wiseman, Gardner, is the first graduate of a new truck driving school at Johnson County Community College.
Due to a series of changes in regulations, retirements and growing supply demand, truck driving is a growing career field.
Jerry Floyd, class instructor, said there’s a shortage of truck driving jobs nationally.
“We need 200,000 to 400,000 truckers right now,” he said. “A lot of old drivers are retiring, and there aren’t new ones coming in.”
New regulations that allow fewer hours driving per day are also adding to the demand for drivers. The CDL is also a requirement for many jobs including roles at the Misssouri and Kansas Departments of Transportation, some school districts and even electrical workers. Floyd said labor unions often send members to driving schools to obtain a CDL.
“Just about everybody needs (a CDL) right now,” Floyd said. “If you’re driving more than a big pick-up, you have to have a CDL.”
Wiseman saw an opportunity and took it. For most of his life, he’s worked in a family business. He continued to work there after the family sold its lawn equipment business, but was ready for a career change. The JCCC program sparked his interest.
The college’s CDL program was established, in part, due to anticipated demand for truck drivers at the intermodal. Officials expect more than 1,500 trucks per day will utilize the intermodal when it’s running at full capacity.
He graduated from the six-week class and earned his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) at the end of November. He is set to start a trucking job with a local company in the new year. The timing and the location were right.
“The (JCCC) allowed me, in a short period of time, to get a new career where I can make quite a bit of money,” Wiseman said.
Floyd, Spring Hill, said JCCC is offering the truck driving school in conjunction with a program at Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Kansas City, Mo. Classes meet at JCCC, and practice driving in Spring Hill.
MCC already has a CDL program, and provides trucks, simulator, curriculum and instructors at JCCC. Like Floyd, most of the instructors are retired drivers.
“Most of them have 20 to 40 years driving trucks,” Floyd said.
Students receive a lot of one-on-one time with instructors throughout the 160-hours of training. Classroom work includes information about reading atlases, doing log books and the rules of the road. Members discuss bridge height and weight requirements.
“We’ll have a couple of eight-hour days, and the rest is one-on-one. One instructor, per one student, three hours at a time,” Floyd said. “That’s what makes us different from most of the truck driving schools around.”
With its heavy emphasis in one-on-one training, Wiseman said some of the training is very flexible. That allows students to work a part-time job while completing the six-week class. Wiseman finished in five weeks.
While Wiseman appreciated the flexible, individualized training, he suggested that one of the greatest aspects of the program is that at the end of the hard work, there are good-paying jobs available.
“It’s whatever you put into it is what you’ll get out of it,” Wiseman said. “If those wheels are turning, you can make money.”
Floyd said the average salary for a truck driver is $50,000. A driver who is willing to work hard can earn much more – up to $70,000. And it doesn’t necessarily require being away from home all of the time.
There are generally three kinds of truck drivers. Local drivers deliver around the city, and are home almost every night. Long haul drivers travel coast-to-coast, sometimes away from home for weeks or even months at a time. Wiseman will be working as a regional truck driver. He’ll be on the road two nights a week and home 80 percent of the time delivering food products to restaurants, fast food establishments and hotels.
His routes will take him into Nebraska, Iowa, eastern parts of Missouri and Oklahoma.
“You just take off and you may have 15 stops,” Wiseman said. “Every hotel, motel, fast food, everybody needs food. You run a full day out, stay overnight, turn around and work your way back home.”
JCCC’s commercial driving class is set to begin in early January. Students interested in the program must meet a number of requirements including attending an information session at JCCC, holding a valid driver’s license and CDL Class-A learner’s permit, and holding a high school diploma or GED. Students must also pass a drug screen within 30 days of the start of the class, pass a physical and complete background check, and allow the college to obtain a current motor vehicle record.
For more information about the program, call Phil Wegman, JCCC program director of skills enhancement, at (913)469-4446. More information is also available online at www.jccc.edu/ce.