More high schools are exploring truck driving programs as the industry looks to recruit and train the next generation of drivers.
Patterson High School in Patterson, California, is one of the first non-vocational high schools to offer a truck driving program. The course, an elective for seniors, is offered in partnership with Morning Star Trucking to provide students with behind-the-wheel training and potential employment opportunities.
Sixty other high schools across the nation have shown an interest in starting their own programs, said Dave Dein, who heads the trucking program at Patterson.
“I’m amazed at what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
Dein, an instructor in the school’s supply chain and logistics program, pitched the administration on adding a trucking program to the supply chain and logistics curriculum. Dein is also co-founder of the Next Generation in Trucking Association, a non-profit organization looking to recruit young people into the industry.
Instructors give an overview of the entire trucking industry and the latest technology, said Dein. The course was designed based on the highest standards of the Professional Truck Driver Institute, according to the school’s course catalog, and students are required to complete 90 hours of lecture and 90 hours of hands-on activities.
Trucking is an aging industry, with the median driver age standing at 46 in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The American Trucking Associations has warned that the industry will need to recruit nearly one million new drivers over the next decade to make up for rising demand and a wave of retirements.
“The industry is raising pay at five times the historic average, but this isn’t just a pay issue,” Chief Economist Bob Costello said in an October statement. “We have an aging workforce, a workforce that is overwhelmingly male and finding ways to address those issues is key to narrowing the shortage.”
More fleets have teamed up with community colleges to grow their recruiting pool. At Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, recruiters visit CDL classes, speak to the students and answer any questions they may have, Missy Blair, advanced program manager of the school’s Center for Transportation Training, said in an email.
But convincing young people to join trucking takes some effort, said Robert Behnke, director of truck driving at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin. The school helps students connect with potential employers to help them find “the right fit.”
“It’s important to get the message out that great opportunities exist for many folks of any age in trucking,” Behnke said. “Trucking should no longer be stereotyped as a dirty, never home, all alone, type of career, but instead it should be marketed as a professional, diverse, and rewarding career that we are all proud to be a part of.”
Still, it’s important for students to understand the full nature of the job, said Dein. Driving requires lots of sitting, and the class at Patterson helps students learn how to stay fit while working in the industry. Guest speakers also attend classes and students are regularly connected with professional drivers.
“We want these youth prepared for the realities of trucking, including the potential health problems they face,” Dein said. “They get a foundation so they are prepared and can make healthy living choices.”
Enrollment increases every year at Patterson and Dein wants those same opportunities available at high schools across the nation. He is working to raise $100,000 to professionally package Patterson’s curriculum to distribute to other high schools for free.
“We want our high school graduate drivers to be the best and the safest out there,” said Dein. “This is a very exciting time for trucking.”