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August 22, 2016 4:01 AM, EDT
CDL or Bust: Students Train to Become Truckers
John Sommers II for TT

This story appears in the Aug. 22 print edition of Transport Topics.

In an era of a persistent driver shortage, Transport Topics has decided to take a look at a small slice of the segment of men and women who will be driving America’s trucks in the years to come by following a driver training school class.

Starting the morning of Aug. 22 via our daily online series, CDL or Bust (CDLorBust.com), you’ll get to know the dozen or so members of the class who have paid more than $4,000 apiece as they attempt to navigate the 16-day, 160-hour course at Truck America Training in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

The students who will start their day at 6:30 a.m. include a 50-year-old widow who has three children and has driven a school bus, a 32-year-old casino dealer, a 29-year-old who loves motorcycles, a 45-year-old mixed martial arts fan and a 27-year-old dump truck driver.

The course culminates in a graduation for those who pass an exam administered by the Kentucky State Police.

“The demand for drivers isn’t going away,” said Debby Mobley, who has operated Truck America Training for 16 years. “It’s greater than it’s ever been.”

At the same time, the job has changed.

“Trucks are so advanced now, it’s almost like we’re training pilots,” said Don LeFeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.

Money for training is an issue, said Martin Garsee, executive director of the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driver Training Schools, “There’s not the public funding stream that we would like to see to put people in the industry,” he said. “Every state and locality is different in how they fund skilled training and what they consider skilled training. [For example,] the Houston-Galveston Area Council doesn’t recognize truck driving as a skilled or high-demand occupation. So in an area of 8 million people, there’s no money available for truck driver training even though there’s hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs posted in the area.”

Mobley said her system works well for her students and their prospective employers.

“[After a week in the classroom,] the first two or three days, it’s primarily interstate driving where they’ve got a wide expanse and plenty of room,” she explained. “Towards the middle of the second week, we take them on two-lane roads, in and out of distribution centers, and in and out of major traffic just like they’re going to be driving in when they get jobs.”

Mobley’s prospective drivers will chat with TT staffers in person and via Skype, and their ups and downs will be chronicled through photos, video and social media. You’ll learn their back stories, cheer when some succeed and feel the pain when some don’t. We’ll also have weekly reports here in the pages of Transport Topics.

“You have people who come back after a year, and their entire life has changed: They were damn near homeless and didn’t know how they were going to pay their bills, and now they just bought a home, they got married, they got a kid on the way,” Mobley said. “That’s the reward for what I do.”

CDL or Bust is sponsored by ConversionU, Four Kites, International Trucks, which is also providing trucks for student training use, and Stay Metrics.

In addition, graduation coverage is sponsored by Omnitracs, and Jet Express is sponsoring 15 annual subscriptions of Transport Topics for student use.