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December 17, 2015 1:00 PM, EST

New YRC Trucking School Offers Graduates $65,000 to Start

HAMMOND, Ind. — A new trucking school might not cost you anything out of pocket, and you could end up with a high-demand job that pays $65,000 the first year and offers full health insurance benefits.

YRC Freight opened its new CDL Training Academy in Hammond. The Overland Park, Kansas-based company hopes to graduate up to 165 new drivers a year, to put a dent in a driver shortage that's resulted in a lot of Russian and Eastern European immigrants coming over for trucker jobs.

"Finding qualified drivers has become increasingly difficult," said Sean Saunders, senior vice president of human resources at YRC Freight. "We decided to take matters into our own hands to some extent and create a superior curriculum that sets drivers up for long-term success with our company. Our largest demand for drivers comes from Chicagoland, so it made sense to open our first school in the area."

Trucking jobs present opportunity for advancement, said Richard Ganch, a Miller resident who worked his way up from being a 19-year-old dockworker to one of YRC Freight's four division vice presidents in the country.

"We have drivers who have become middle management because they decided they want to do more," he said. "It all starts with getting into the industry... I just see opportunities for anyone who takes that same path through the industry. It just depends on what you want to do and how aggressive you want to be.

"If you want to work hard and put your nose to the grindstone, the world's the limit. You don't have to have doctorates or MBAs. Our chief executive officer started in sales, and his father was a truck driver. The sky's the limit."

Trucking jobs also are plentiful and expected to get more so since the average of private fleet drivers is 52 years old, according to American Trucking Associations.

Classes at the YRC Freight CDL Training Academy start every two weeks. As many as 10 students at a time can participate, and it's free if they are qualified, such as if they pass a criminal background check, a Homeland Security Hazmat background check and a Department of Transportation physical.

They split their eight-hour days between classroom training and driving tractor-trailers out in the field, including in-training courses on the 5-acre property. They rack up 320 hours of training, including 160 in a finishing school when they transition to becoming employees.

Once they earn their commercial driver licenses, they will have the opportunity to immediately start working for YRC Freight, which is one of the largest transporters of goods in the industry.

"This is an exciting time for YRC Freight," Director of Driver Recruitment Dave Renfrew said. "Something we've been working against for a very long time is hiring drivers."

The company, which is based in the Kansas City area, is looking to open more schools in other trucking hubs.